Livin' the Dream

Livin' the Dream

About Me

I am a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, majoring in journalism. My passion is cycling. I am a category 4 bike racer and my absolute dream would be to turn pro one day. My more realistic goal is to become a journalist for the sport of cycling and eventually move on to become a broadcaster for the sport.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Opinion: Mark Cavendish: Has He Lost His Step?

            Sprinting is the most harrowing aspect of cycling. The riders race shoulder-to-shoulder, speeding along at 60 kph, all with the same goal—to be first across the line. For the past several years, sprinting has become synonymous with one name in particular—Mark Cavendish. With 25 stage wins, one green jersey, and four wins on the Champs-Elysees his resume speaks for itself. In his first Tour de France, Cavendish crashed several times in the first week and ended up abandoning. For the next four years he won 4 or more stages per Tour (4 in 2008; 6 in 2009; and 5 in 2010 and 2011), totaling 20 stages in all. However, in the last two years combined he has only mustered five stage wins. So, the question is, has Mark Cavendish passed his prime?

Perhaps. Three major factors lead me to believe he has lost his step. One: Cavendish has shown repeatedly he is unable to win if his lead out train does not deliver him right to the line. In contrast, Marcel Kittle and Peter Sagan have shown they are able to “freelance” sprints. Two: Cavendish has clearly lost his ability to hold a sprint—during today’s first stage; Sagan reacted first, beating Cavendish to the punch, a feat that has never happened before. Third: Cavendish needs to resort to antics to try to be positioned for the win. During the stage today, Gerrans was coming past him and not slowing down; Cavendish chose to head butt his way into a gap that was nonexistent.

            The last two years at the Tour Mark Cavendish has been involved in a crash inside the last 300. Last year the stage 10 approach to the line was bit tricky. The road curved left at the finish. Mark Cavendish collided with Tom Veelers, Marcel Kittle’s lead out man. Veelers went down hard, but Cavendish was able to stay upright. Cavendish was cleared of any wrong doing by the organization. (You can view the video here.) The point is that when Cavendish and Veelers collided, Andre Greipel had already launched his sprint and was bike lengths ahead of him, so was Marcel Kittle. It is irrelevant that Cavendish did not have a proper lead out. He should have been locked on Greipel’s wheel, but instead he was sitting 5th wheel behind Kittle. Looking at the video, he still would have gotten third with no room to come around Kittle or Greipel, who went should-to-shoulder crossing the line. So, in the end, he was poorly positioned. Is he losing his instinct to navigate sprints?

            Now, let’s look at today’s crash, Cavendish was positioned perfectly, third wheel behind Marcel Kittle. In previous years you would have seen Cavendish make the first jump, but Peter Sagan beat him to it. Simon Gerrans followed Sagan, leaving Cavendish to try to push Gerrans out of the way so he could follow Sagan. (You can view the video here.) To his credit, Cavendish has taken responsibility for his actions and admits the crash was his fault, but feels the need to rationalize the actions. He says that Gerrans was slowing down and he, Cavendish, wanted to get by him. After having studied the video many times, I can only conclude that Gerrans was not slowing down, but was in fact coming by Cavendish and had already gained a bit of a lead on him. I believe this is a prime example of Cavendish losing a step in his finishing kick. He waited a little bit too long and someone was able to come over the top of him, leaving him to resort to head butting to try to make up for his lack of finishing kick. Do not get me wrong, Mark Cavendish still has a stellar finishing kick but, if you look back to what was arguably his best year, 2009, some of those sprints he held for 300 meters or more. Not anymore.

            I am a Mark Cavendish fan. Sadly, I think his best years are behind him. Now he can only hope to heal up and make it to Paris.

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