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Mark!

Mark Cavendish winning today's stage, with Tyler Farrar to his left

[Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images]

I spent much of last July penning paeans to Mark Cavendish. I didn’t plan to do it again. But, my gosh, he’s amazing. I love watching him. Who needs the mountain stages or the individual time trials when there’s the daily drama of the sprint stages?

Stage four, two days ago, ended with the peloton’s entry into the magnificent city of Reims. It appeared that Cavendish’s teammate Mark Renshaw had positioned him perfectly for the finishing sprint that brought him four stage victories two years ago and six last year. But Alessandro Petacchi had other ideas, and when he struck unexpectedly with about 250 meters to go, Cavendish tried vainly to keep up for a second or two, then folded. Where was Cavendish’s awesome power of the previous two years? How did Petacchi re-discover the form of half a decade ago, with his second stage win in four days. So many questions.

No more. Cavendish was his old self in yesterday’s stage finish at Montargis. The Garmin team appeared in control, with a four-man train leading the way as the finish approached — David Millar, Robbie Hunter, Julian Dean, and our local boy, Tyler Farrar. One by one, they dropped off, leaving Dean to launch Farrar to the finish. But Renshaw and Cavendish had other ideas, launching a dramatic counter-strike. Minutes later, on the podium, Cavendish cried uncontrollably. He was back, and immensely relieved to be back.

Today’s finish featured three well-positioned teams — Garmin and Columbia again, and Lampre, determined to get Petacchi back in the mix. Farrar, I should note, broke his wrist and injured his elbow in his crash a few days ago. He is steadily regaining his strength and control, but still suffering. It looked like Garmin might get him the victory today. No, Lampre and Petacchi. But no, Renshaw was magnificent in pulling Cavendish through a gap that opened up with maybe 350 meters to go. Seconds later, Cavendish was gone. Farrar tried to get behind his wheel, but couldn’t quite close the gap, finishing a strong second, but with daylight between the two of them. An elated Cavendish hugged retired sprinting great Erik Zabel just past the finish line.

Three great days of racing.

The mountains begin tomorrow, a day in the Juras. Then the Alps Sunday, a rest day Monday, Alps again Tuesday, and an easier Alpine day Wednesday, but a day I want to watch in its entirety, as it will pass through some of the roads and towns we visited when we saw Joel in Grenoble last October. In particular, it starts in Chambéry, where we changed trains on our long travel day from Grenoble to Venice, then passes the outskirts of Grenoble and on to Vizille, which we drove through on our drive to Alpe d’Huez two days earlier. Even if you don’t care for the cycling, you may enjoy watching the next few days just for the scenery.

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Categories: Cycling, Sports
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