Mark Cavendish is as entertaining a sprinter as we’ve had since Mario Cipollini retired from the sport. As small as a Cooper S and just as fast, he’s as interesting on the road as off. Unafraid to talk a little smack before a stage, you can be certain he’ll back it up with an acceleration befitting a top-fuel dragster.
Just one problem, his mouth cost him the green jersey. No matter what you thought of the bunch sprint on stage 14 (it seemed no worse to me than many I’ve seen), Thor Hushovd thought Columbia-HTC’s Cavendish interfered with his progress and filed a protest. The race judges agreed and relegated Cavendish to the back of the group.
Had the result stood, Cavendish would have gained 13 points in the green jersey competition and Hushovd would have picked up 12. Instead, Cavendish got no points and Hushovd picked up 13.
Afterward, Cavendish said that if Hushovd were to win the green jersey of the points competition when the race finishes in Paris, it would be because of the relegation, suggesting that Hushovd might not be a worthy victor. Hushovd answered him on stage 17 by entering an early breakaway and taking the 12 points available in the first two intermediate sprints.
It was a gutsy move. It was real racing, apart from the larger considerations of the yellow jersey and even the inevitability of the stage victory by a climber. Even if Cavendish hadn’t been relegated, Hushovd would have increased his lead in the Green Jersey competition from 4 points to 16.
Had the relegation not occurred, and Cavendish kept his mouth shut, he would have gone into the final stage of the Tour just 4 points down on Hushovd. A victory on his part would have given him the Green Jersey for keeps. Without the stage victory, Hushovd would only need to finish a place behind him to keep the jersey,
But because Cavendish suggested that Hushovd could only win the jersey with the points gained due to the relegation, Hushovd got mad and, as the proverbial “they” say, he went on a tear. With the 12 points he gained during his breakaway he was 25 points ahead of Cavendish going into the final stage. The only way he could win the final Points Classification was if he won the stage and Hushovd finished in 15th place or lower. Oops.
History will show Hushovd won the Green Jersey by 10 points, two fewer than he gained on his breakaway on stage 17. Without those 12 points, Cavendish would have taken the Green Jersey off of Hushovd at the finish line in Paris.
Cavendish’s off-the-bike statements have animated the race as much as his legs have, making him arguably the most entertaining rider at the 2009 Tour de France, but I wonder if watching the Green Jersey slip away due to one remark might make him think more before speaking. We have to hope not; the race already has too many guys making guarded statements. The race is more fun if Cavendish speaks like he sprints.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International