Sprint ace Mark Cavendish has harshly criticised race officials' decision to relegate him to last in Saturday's dash for the line in Besancon. The decision effectively means the 24-year-old's bid to become the first Briton to take the Tour's points classification has all but collapsed.
Outspoken as ever and seemingly indifferent to any possible penalisation for his criticisms, yesterday Cavendish said, "I've lost any chance of the green jersey now, but everybody knows that disqualification was the wrong decision.
"I've only cried twice because of dark things happening in my career, and once was after this."
In last Saturday's bunch sprint, with 12 riders from a breakaway already across the line, Cavendish's chances of a fifth stage win had long since gone. But valuable points for the green jersey competition were still on offer and with Cavendish and arch-rival Thor Hushovd leading the classification, both charged for the line.
Hushovd later protested that Cavendish had blocked him slightly and – for the first time in Cavendish's career – race officials quickly relegated the Briton to last place in the stage.
"At the end of the day Thor must think so highly of me that I wanted to box him in and sprint unfairly, and that the only way to get his points is with a bit of paper," Cavendish argued.
The net result was zero points for Cavendish, and the Manxman's chances of taking green went up in smoke, too. While still angry about the officials' decision, Cavendish insisted that "you've got to put these things into perspective".
"Other things happen that make you realise it's only a race, like the tragedy of that woman [spectator] dying on the same day."
The spectator, a 61-year-old, was killed by a police motorbike early on the same stage.
"It was the most horrific sight I've ever seen – the whole peloton saw her on the roadside. When you see something like that, the race becomes irrelevant, the least of your worries. You stop thinking about it."
Outside Cavendish's hotel, the Briton's next big sporting challenge in his bid to finish the Tour de France for a first time – the snowcapped Alpine peaks that will play host to the next two stages – are clearly visible.
"We've got around 45 kilometres of climbing on the first stage [today] alone," commented Austrian Bernie Eisel, Cavendish's Columbia-HTC team-mate who acts as a "support rider" for the Briton through the mountains. "I can tell when he's suffering on the climb because if I'm a little bit into the red, Cav's always doing much worse."
"The third week of a major Tour like this, your muscles start wasting away," Cavendish said with a slightly demonic grin. "It sounds sadistic, but you quite enjoy it at the time. I was saying to the team doctor the other day, 'It can't be healthy to do this', and he said, 'That's right, it's not!"
Cavendish insists the thought of 9,000 metres of climbing in two days does not play on his mind. It's going to hurt, but I'm going to get through them, I'm going better in the mountains than I ever was before."
As for tactics, "We'll stay with the big contenders for about 10 kilometres on the first climb, and then we'll get dropped and find the group of guys who just want to get through," Eisel says.
While Cavendish goes into survival mode in the Alps, simultaneously Britain's Bradley Wiggins will try to defend his remarkable third place overall. Wiggins took a half-hour helicopter trip yesterday to check out Thursday's crucial time trial in Annecy, but the Garmin-Slipstream rider said afterwards that his first objective was "to get through Tuesday's stage".
"I'm not stupid enough to think I'm going to beat [race leader] Alberto Contador, and you've got to keep a perspective on things," he added. "You don't look at the summit of a mountain when you're trying to climb it, you take it step by step."
Meanwhile Contador admitted that the Briton's superb performance is giving him food for thought, saying, "Bradley will do well in the time trial, so my team will have to make really sure we drop him in the mountains," – presumably, starting today.Reuse content