On a day when drama surrounded the Tour de France just before the start, Mark Cavendish â the self-confessed âfastest man in the worldâ â again came to the fore in the final 300 meters and cross the line to claim his third stage win in the 2008 Tour de France. A strong tailwind pushed the riders from Lavelanet to Narbonne in a transitional stage between the main mountain ranges, helping the bunch finish the 168.5km stage with an average speed of 45.774km/h. It was a victory achieved thanks to great work of his Columbia team that, together with the formations containing other sprinters, helped reel in a trio of escapees nine kilometers before the finish.
The Progress Report
The 12th stage of the 2008 Tour de France, from Lavelanet to Narbonne, began at 1.23pm. There were just 159 riders in the race. The absentees were the remaining Saunier Duval-Scott team riders: Ricco, Bertogliati, Cobo, De La Fuente, Del Nero, Jufre and Piepoli. A failed doping control for the winner of two stages and the leader of both the mountains and youth classifications meant that there was no polka-dot jersey in the peloton for the 168.5km stage. The race featured just one climb, the cat-4 col du Camperie at 57.5km. The two sprints were in Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet (at 76km) and Thezan-des-Corbieres (142.5km). The weather was warm with a tailwind of about 25-30km/h blowing the bunch to Narbonne.
Getting Two To EscapeâŚ
It was a fast start to the stage with the peloton countering every move. Cooke (BAR) crashed early in the stage and abandoned shortly afterwards. Eventually the right combination was allowed to gain time: Dumoulin (COF) and Gerard (FDJ) got clear at the 36km mark. The Bouygues Telecom team tried to chase them down but they soon settled down and assumed position in the middle of the pack. The average speed for the first hour was 51.0km/h. The maximum gain of the pair was 4â20â at the 55km mark. Teams of sprinters then came to the fore: first Credit Agricole, trying to set up the intermediate sprint for Hushovd but he was foiled by Freire who added another two points to his tally; then Columbia and Quickstep. At the 85km mark, the gain of Gerard and Dumoulin had dropped to just 50â.
After the feedzone (85.5km) the leaders picked up the pace and there was a settling of tempo for the peloton. The advantage grew again, 1â30â at 94km. The average speed for the 2nd hour was 45.3km/h. Engoulvent (C.A) crashed at the 90km mark and sustained abrasions on his left side but remounted and finished the stage.
Two Becomes Three
Oroz attacked the peloton at the 55km to go, when the two leaders were just 35â ahead. It took about 1,000m for the Euskaltel rider to catch the two Frenchman. With 50km to go the trio led by 1â10â. Silence and CSC were near the head of the peloton and they had some cooperation from riders of the Columbia and Milram teams. Credit Agricoleâs DS, Serge Beucherie, explained that Thor wasnât feeling well, thus his troops wouldnât contribute the pacesetting duties. With 35km to go, the advantage was just 35â. Dumoulin offered a brief attack 30km from the line and this simply increased the advantage momentarily: 1â05â with 28km to go. Liquigas and Quickstep moved to the front of the peloton with 25km to go.
Setting âCavâ UpâŚ
The Escape was caught 9km from the finish. Milram and Columbia were the teams in most control of the lead-out. Going into the final kilometer Hushovd did move forward but he, nor anyone else was able to match the pace of Cavendish who claimed his third stage win by the length of a bike. He started his sprint from about fifth position with 300m to go and beat Sebastien Chavanel by a little less than a bike length. âThis was the hardest of all three sprint. It was really fast all day,â said the stage winner. âIâm glad I could do that for my team-mates especially for how hard theyâve worked in the last few days.â
Cadel Evans (SIL) finished 20th and will wear the yellow jersey in stage 13 with no change to top order of the general classification.
Heâs in the lead by just one second after 12 stages and Cadel Evans is content with how the race is going. Unlike recent years when his squad would have collaborated to set up a sprint for Robbie McEwen, this time around heâs happy to let other squads chase down the breakaways.
âItâs hard to stay up front in the peloton all the time but itâs important to do that because thereâs the risk of being caught up in a crash. Thatâs really what I had to look out for today. There wasnât any real threat of losing the jersey in a stage like this so I just wanted to be careful, do the minimal amount of work and stay safe.
âIt was windy today and that helped the peloton minimize its losses to the escape group and my team just looked out for me while other teams took the real responsibility for the chase. It makes sense for Quickstep, Milram and Columbia to set it up for a sprint because theyâre the squads that have the most to gain: they want to win stages, we want to win the Tour.
âAnother day, another yellow jersey. Iâm happy enough with that. All of the jerseys that I get a the Tour de France will be donated to charities; theyâre very special to me but if I can help out some people who are less privileged than me then itâs the least I can do.â
Transitional stages have a tendency to end with a small group finishing ahead of the peloton but with a strong tailwind pushing the riders to Narbonne in stage 12, a bunch sprint always seemed like being the likely outcome. Once the fugitives were reeled in, only a bold man would have bet against Mark Cavendish. The King of the Sprints claimed his third victory in convincing fashion.
âIâm a bit tired now but Iâm still the fastest across the line. This was the hardest of all three sprints. It was really fast all day. It was really windy and there was a bit of argy-bargy in the final but I didnât lose my cool and believe I rode a good sprint. Iâm glad I could do that for my team-mates especially for how hard theyâve worked in the last few days. Itâs so nice to win the first two but itâs great to be able to pick up another one after getting through the Pyrenees.
âItâs brilliant to win again. The time before this, I won by a few bike lengths and thatâs a great feeling and today there wasnât even a bike length in it but I knew I had it.
âI hope that itâs possible to get the green jersey but weâll see what comes in the next few days. The race is a lot different in the second and third weeks and everyone is getting tired. The plan is to still be there in Paris and perhaps I can pick up a few more wins before the race is over.
"As you can see today, however, the win wasn’t quite as convincing as the first two. I’m getting tired and I’m going to take it day by day and hope that I survive the Alps. I had a crash the other day when I hit a ball that rolled onto the road around 50km to go in the stage before the rest day. I’m a bit sore after that and it’s making things a little interesting.â
Mark Cavendish is living up to his self-confessed claim as being "the fastest rider in the world". He’s won three stages so far in the 2008 Tour. The top 10 in stage 12 is:
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) THR
2. Sebastian Chavanel (FRA) FDJ
3. Gert Steegmans (BEL) QST
4. Erik Zabel (GER) MRM
5. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB
6. Francesco Chicchi (ITA) LIQ
7. Thor Hushovd (NOR) C.A
8. Leonardo Duque (COL) COF
9. Julian Dean (NZL) TSL
10. Heinrich Hassler (GER) GST
Mark Cavendish made winning the stage look oh-so easy. He now has three in his collection.
The peloton is in the final kilometer of the stage and Hushovd has muscled his way to the front of the peloton. For a rider who isn’t feeling too well, he’s up there in the mix...
The most dominant lead-out train in the final 2km is Columbia. Cavendish has just come up the right side of the road tucked in behind a team-mate.
It’s time to pick your sprinter if you want to predict the winner of the stage. They are all present near the head of the peloton. Now that the bunch is inside the final 3km, the yellow jersey can be seen drifting back in the peloton to keep himself out of trouble as the lead-out trains form at the front of the bunch.