TDF 2024: Stage 5: Tears, Hugs, Joy, History Made


Today, tears of joy were shed. Hugs were shared. Joy was spread. No, this is not a random poem. Today we celebrated, each in our own way the 35th victory of Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France. Fifteen Tours. 35 wins. History has now been rewritten. The Manx Missile has now bested the best cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx, whose record was 34 stage wins on the famous all terrain, all-France stage race, Le Tour de France.

Even Phil Liggett shed tears on national television. Though many did not tear up like he did, this writer did.

We have watched the Cav throughout his career, and watched him fight for every win. He’s had massive setbacks, like in last year’s Tour de France when he left abruptly, sadly, dejectedly in the early days of the race with a broken collarbone.

We watched him and wondered as he became enthralled by the infamous and beautiful porno model, Peta Todd, whom I met and interviewed in Paris while she was still his girlfriend cheering him on from the sidelines, as her son screamed, “Go, Cavendish, Go,” on the Champs Elysees.

They married and now have four children together, all of whom came to kiss and hug him after the stage today, after he was congratulated by most of the peloton, and his Astana Team. Not without reason he thanked his Astana Qazaqstan team leader and boss Alexander Vinokourov, and his team, notably his lead-out master, Michael Morkov. The Astana team had made a calculated gamble bringing Cavendish back to his 50th Tour, as the second eldest rider in the Tour, and someone who crashed out and failed last year.

Amid the post-race brouhaha, in front of television cameras, the Cav’ displayed his usual humble thanks to the team, barely recognizing his own efforts to make it to the finish first. It is true, on retrospect and thanks to replay TV, that he pushed a few shoulders, but he was also pushed in the bruising run up to the finish in Saint Vulbas, which had an inordinate share of roundabouts and chicanes.

Several announcers on Peacock TV had announced in the early morning hours that Cavendish was their pick for the day, with a little competition going for the choice. But it was Liggett who showed the most emotion when the Missile won. We all know how much the Cav’ has been through, over the years with successive injuries and setbacks, and this year, how much he has suffered as a sprinter through the tough mountain stages, to come to his victory today. In fact, it almost seems like the Tour organizers purposely tried to drop him from the Tour on the fourth day of competition as riders had to tackle not just the longest climb of the Tour, at Sestrieres, but also the highest, Col de Galibier (23 km at average 5.1%).  The man–a heavier than light sprinter–slogged through, and made it to today.

Early in the day Wednesday he showed signs of being prepared to win. He refrained from friendly repartee, showing focus. He stopped the mechanics in the caravan to retool his already excellently equipped bike. These were all signs that he was focused and ready. The focused perfectionist.

There won’t be another Mark Cavendish in our lifetimes most likely. We are lucky to have him.

The Race – Blow by Blow

Cavendish used all his experience in a bunch sprint to grab the historic win ahead of Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in second and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X), who was third. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) remains in the Yellow Jersey with no changes at the top of the GC on the fifth day of racing.

Two riders from Lyon
Following a few unsuccessful breakaway attempts, at the 25km mark, that Clement Russo (Groupama-FDJ) left the peloton, joined at km 31 by Matteo Vercher (TotalEnergies).

The two riders from Lyon moved clear by the peloton and obtained a maximum advantage of 4’35” at km 40. The duo’s gap was calmly controlled by riders from Lidl-Trek and Alpecin-Deceuninck, who led the peloton. The average speed recorded after two hours of racing over flat terrain was 39.2 km/h. At the first categorized climb of the day – Côte du Cheval Blanc (Cat 4, km 104.6) – it was Russo who picked up the solitary point for the Mountain classification, with the peloton then 2’20” adrift of him and Vercher.

Russo was then first at the intermediate sprint at Aoste (IS, km 123.2) followed by Vercher, before the peloton arrived and Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) won a bunch sprint ahead of Sam Bennett (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck). The riders then made their way to second categorized climb of the stage in the rain with the peloton gradually reducing the deficit to Russo and Vercher, finally catching them with just under 36 km to go, as the Côte de Lhuis (Cat 4, km 142,8) ascent started.

History made
Going over Côte de Lhuis first and uncontested was Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X) for another single Mountain classification point, ensuring him leadership of the climbers’ rankings for at least the next two days. Then at the finish in Saint-Vulbas it was Cavendish who showed his class and strength in the hectic final sprint to make Tour history, crossing the line ahead of Philipsen, Kristoff, Arnaud de Lie (Lotto-dstny) and Fabio Jakobsen (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL), whilst Girmay was ninth to secure the green jersey.

A day to remember.

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