Mark Cavendish leading the sprinting comeback kings
Manxman recaptures his form in France ahead of Tour of Britain
by Colin Henrys
As John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) was sprinting to his second consecutive stage victory at the Vuelta a Espana, one man who might have been up against him was toasting his own double success.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), having sprinted into the Tour Poitou Charentes leader’s jersey on stage one, made it back-to-back victories on stage two.
The Manx Missile, riding just his second stage race since crashing out of the Tour de France on stage one in Harrogate, has ensured he is fast approaching prime form for the Tour of Britain with his form i[splitpost intro="true"]n France.
Having followed the two victories with third place on stage three, Cavendish has also offered a tantalising glimpse into what might have been at the Tour – his eagerly-awaited battle with Marcel Kittel not materialising.
Cav is not the only sprinter bouncing back after the Tour either – Degenkolb being another, with the German having helped set up Kittel’s four wins but being unable to secure a maiden victory for himself.
Elia Viviani, another sprinter to have been in good touch this season without showing at the Grand Tours – he was unable to grab a stage win for himself at the Giro, and could not set Peter Sagan up for one at the Tour either, has also returned to winning ways.
Nacer Bouhanni, too, has returned to winning ways after being omitted from FDJ.fr’s Tour de France squad.
All in all, August has been a month packed with resurgent performances from some of the WorldTour’s big-name fast men. We have rounded up some of the best over the following pages.
[part title="Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)"]
A maiden yellow jersey for Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France, in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate, looked finally to be on the cards as Omega Pharma-Quickstep hit the front in the final few kilometres.
How quickly it can all change in cycling.
Of course, it was not to be for the Manxman – the team losing their momentum when Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) made a solo bid for glory, before Cavendish crashed heavily as he jostled desperately for position with Fabian Cancellara.
His injury subsequently ruled him out of the rest of the Tour, the Commonwealth Games and RideLondon too, before he also missed out on a spot at the Vuelta a Espana.
Instead, Cavendish has been looking to recapture his form in France ahead of the Tour of Britain – and it has been a case of so far so good for the Omega Pharma-Quickstep man.
Victory on stage one, his tenth stage win of the season, put him into the leader’s jersey and he again sprinted to victory – backed by a sprint train which includes lead-out man Mark Renshaw, on stage two.
He could not seal a hat-trick – Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) taking the third stage – but the form is clearly there for the Manxman, just in time for him to look at adding to his ten career Tour of Britain wins next month.
[part title="John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano)"]
The Tour de France was undoubtedly a huge success for Giant-Shimano, as Marcel Kittel took the yellow jersey on stage one and went on to win four stages in all.
For their alternative sprint leader, John Degenkolb, individual success was not forthcoming – though his role setting the pace for Kittel’s sprint successes should not be underestimated.
However, on a personal level, Degenkolb’s Tour was a story of pain and near-misses – a ruptured gluteus making for some uncomfortable days in the saddle as he twice narrowly missed out on a stage win – having two second places to his name instead.
At the Vuelta a Espana, however, Degenkolb has been back to his best form – the sort which earned him a day in the yellow jersey at Paris-Nice and Gent-Wevelgem victory earlier in the year.
Degenkolb’s stage four victory, in particular, was hugely impressive thanks to the ease with which he seemed to leave his rivals for dead in the final sprint.
On stage five, he proved it is not just the slightly hilly stages where he is a danger either – beating Nacer Bouhanni as the Frenchman got his tactics wrong.
Degenkolb may well be in the shadows of Kittel at Giant-Shimano, but with seven Vuelta career victories to his name now the German has proved once again he is a fine sprinter in his own right too.
[part title="Elia Viviani (Cannondale)"]
Cannondale’s Italian sprinter Elia Viviani has experienced a mixed season this year, collecting stage wins in Italy, Turkey, Slovenia and now America but suffering two disappointing Grand Tours.
Viviani was the Green Machine’s number one sprinter at the Giro d’Italia but, after a promising start which saw him briefly pull on the red jersey, he faded out of contention.
Having twice beaten the in-form Mark Cavendish at the Tour of Turkey – though Cavendish did better the Italian on four other occasions – a combination of crashes, illness and the form of his rivals saw him return from his ‘home’ Grand Tour empty-handed.
At the Tour, meanwhile, Viviani was to act as lead-out for Peter Sagan, but again suffered a below-par showing – getting dropped on stage one, which set the tone for his Tour.
With Sagan too often forced to go it alone, the Slovakian champion was also unable to bag an individual stage win despite romping to the green jersey again.
However, Viviani bounced back at the USA Pro Challenge – determined not to squander the one sprinting opportunity on offer in the race.
For the romantics, Jens Voigt’s late escape – in what was the final week of racing in his illustrious career – would have ended with the German taking a solo win.
But the sprinters would not be denied – catching Voigt with 700 metres to go, before Viviani powered to just his fifth victory of the season.
[part title="Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr)"]
Three stage wins and the red jersey at the Giro d’Italia were still not enough to convince FDJ.fr to part with their original plans and send Nacer Bouhanni to the Tour de France.
A bitterly disappointed Bouhanni, who was subsequently beaten to the French national title by the man who beat him to a Tour spot, Arnaud Demare, has since signed a contract to join Cofidis for next season.
Bouhanni, however, has bounced back – following a stage win at Ardooie at the Eneco Tour with victory on stage two of the Vuelta a Espana.
It was the 24-year-old’s fourth Grand Tour win of the season, having started the season without ever having won one, and was a reminder of what FDJ.fr were missing at the Tour.
He was unable to follow it up on stage five, however, getting his tactics wrong and finding himself boxed in – despite his protestations otherwise.
Nevertheless, his move to Cofidis will seem him backed by a strong sprint train – with several new signings hand-picked by the Frenchman – but does see him drop down from WorldTour level.
If he can keep up the form he has shown this year, however, a maiden Tour de France stage win could well be in the offing in 2015.