Tour de France: Cavendish puts the team first in pursuit of a golden finish
A stage win, a crash, a fifth place and a finish six minutes down and well out of the action: for World Champion Mark Cavendish, who is used to racking up Tour stage wins at a rate that has made him its fifth most prolific such performer, this has been the strangest of starts. And it promises to go on like that, too.
Cavendish is well aware that his personal options in a race where he has taken a minimum of four stages every year since 2008 – as well as the green jersey in 2011 – have been curtailed dramatically because of Bradley Wiggins's attempt to become Britain's first Tour de France winner.
Rather than a huge train of team-mates from his former HTC team guiding him into pole position for the victory as Cavendish has been able to rely on in previous years, the 27-year-old has had – at best – just one or two Sky team-mates to help him through the pack, barring one stage where they guided him as far as the final kilometre.
But bizarrely enough, Cavendish – reigning World Champion, Britain's greatest road-racer and the fastest sprinter of his generation – does not appear to mind being comparatively isolated and cutting such a relatively low profile. For once, Cavendish and Sky have bigger fish to fry.
"Funny emotions tonight," Cavendish tweeted in the week, "no matter how many stage wins we get, I won't be happy unless we have the yellow jersey in Paris. Allez Wiggo."
Cavendish knows full well that he is unable to take the Tour victory himself. But he is equally aware that to ride into Paris on July 22 with Wiggins in the race lead – or even on the podium, which would also be a British first in the Tour – is a landmark in sport, which would be hard to overshadow.
No matter how many times it is repeated, for any country a breakthrough at that level is historic. Cavendish outstripping the total number of stage wins by Lance Armstrong or André Darrigade, the sport's greatest sprinter, who both have 22, is a huge achievement. But, unfairly, perhaps, it pales in comparison with a yellow jersey in Paris.
Sky are currently in an "all hands on deck" scenario, given that they have already lost a key climber, Kanstantsin Sivtsov, through injury, and another, Australian Richie Porte, is not in great shape after crashing three times on stage six. And Cavendish – who has proved umpteen times in the past that he can play the sterling team-mate – is just as indispensable as the rest.
This will not be new to Cavendish, or surprising to those who know him well. At the Commonwealth Games in India, for example, after his own racing was done, Cavendish happily acted as an impromptu mechanic, and washed bikes and fixed tyres for his Isle of Man team-mates. At the Tour of Romandie this year he worked his fingers to the bone for Wiggins, pulling back breakaways that had no possible interest for him. And this autumn he will almost certainly take part in the World Championships, on a course so hilly he knows he cannot win, in order to "pay back" his team-mates for helping him clinch the rainbow jersey of champion last year.
So when Sky director Sean Yates says: "Cav won't be allergic at fetching water bottles from the team car" – one of the many thankless, unseen, tasks lower-ranked team riders have to do in races – they are not idle words. And it cannot be forgotten that Cavendish has his eyes on an even greater prize than his 22nd or 23rd Tour stage win: the Olympic road-race in London the following Saturday. If he fine-tunes his form at the Tour to increase his chances of taking gold there, then all his sacrifices and relatively low profile at the Tour will quickly be forgotten.
Latest in Sport
West Ham vs Arsenal match report: Sam Allardyce fumes at referee as Arsenal push on towards top four
Tottenham vs Manchester United match report: Hugo Lloris blocks Manchester United from putting pressure on Premier League title rivals
Liverpool vs Swansea preview: 'Jonjo Shelvey is lazy, he needs to wise up,' says Garry Monk
Arsenal transfer news: William Carvalho to be subject of £20m bid
West Ham 1 Arsenal 2 player ratings: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? Andy Carroll? Alexis Sanchez? Who was the star man?
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 Doctors remove 80 teeth from boy's jaw
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Douglas Carswell tells Ukip to stop blaming foreigners as youth poll shows Nigel Farage is even less popular than Nick Clegg
£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...
£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...
£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...