Hushovd Sees Green

Tour de France 2009 stg Grand Bornand

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

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12 comments

  1. Jan

    Personally, I first lost a lot of respect for Cavendish after the way he bad-mouthed Thor after stage 14. Protesting a ruling is one thing, demeaning an honest and respected opponent, quite another.

    Now, however, all is forgiven. Not only was his apology after the final stage fine, he also (more or less) admitted that he, in hindsight, no longer objected with the ruling. I wish him all the best, and look forward to following him in years to come.

    Now, about Hushovd. Is it just me, or did anybody else reflect on him almost being a different rider now than in years past? This year doing phenomenally in the mountains (compared to before), less so in man-to-man sprints?

    I have never ridden Cervelo OR Look and, hence, cannot make a comparison. Thor, however, was central in product-development with Look and without a doubt got a frame that suited him for sprints. With Cervelo, not so.

    Head-on shots of the final sprints surprised me with the amount of fish-tailing his Cervelo allowed. But he was able to break away and lead UPHILL?

    Any thoughts?

  2. Brooke Hoyer

    I’m sure that the stage 14 shenanigans inflamed some tempers and wounded some egos — at least with respect to Cav and Thor. But at the end of the day, they are both professional bike racers. Cav was in the unanticipated position of contending for the green jersey. He stated before the Tour that he was interested in making it to Paris and racking up as many wins as possible. He achieved that goal in spades.

    Because Thor and Cav were in a fight for green, Cav and Columbia were in a bit of a pickle during the run in to the finish of the fourteenth stage. Slow things down for Hincapie or run the train for Cav. Yellow or green, pick one please. Instead they got greedy and tried to pick up both. The result was that they didn’t get either.

    We all like a drama and it’s a nice narrative that Thor went on his tear through the mountains to prove his worthiness. After all, it’s a macho man thing we like to see from our champions. But the fact is that Thor wouldn’t have won the Green had he not score those 12 points from stage 17. I think it’s unlikely that Thor went on his little breakaway for show. No, it was a calculated strategy to win enough points to make the green jersey safe.

    Thor would have done it whether Cav had acted like Cav (verbal diarrhea) or not. He was the bright spot in the race for Cervelo and bringing home the green made their race a bigger success than it would have been with one stage victory.

    Oh, and I loved the competition between the two and cracked a smile when they came across the line on Ventoux.

  3. Stephen

    We can’t know whether Thor would have ridden Stage 17 as he did without Cav’s earlier relegation, but it’s fair to assume that he would have — he acknowledged that he couldn’t beat Cav in an open sprint and so would have known that a move like Stage 17’s was necessary. Cav’s insult just added to the drama of the situation.

    I’d go Brooke Hoyer one further, though — for me, Thor’s riding on Stage 17 wasn’t just the bright spot for Cervelo, it was one of the brightest spots in a whole Tour otherwise marked by a fair amount of whining, finger pointing and in-fighting (see also, LA, Contador, Hincapie, Matt White, Sastre, Bob Stapleton, etc., etc.) – a brilliant rider who went out and took the race and his results into his own hands.

  4. db

    “The race is more fun if Cavendish speaks like he sprints.”

    Not for all of us. I’m tired of listening to a very limited rider (yes, he is an incredible sprinter) acting like a clown. And I know other cycling fans who are as well. Not all of us need condescending sound-bites to enjoy racing. “Guarded statements” come from guys with half a brain who have been humbled by their mis-steps.

    Even worse, perhaps Cav ended up rubbing off on Hincapie, who was uncharacteristic in his whining.

    I agree with Stephen — Thor’s riding was a Tour highlight.

  5. bikesgonewild

    …cavendish made his peace w/ the powerful hushovd by way of an actual face to face apology, calling him “totally worthy” of the green & w/ guys as good as those two, you gotta know it wasn’t just platitudes or window dressing…

    …after that hokey relegation (c’mon thor ???), it’s understandable that cavo gets pissed & mouths off a bit & ya, the kid does speak his mind, huh ???…but one way or another, his legs back him up…

    …as his directeur sportif allan pieper commented, the young man is smart, intrepid & can improvise….even w/ his ‘limited’ experience, he knows how to read the setup so as to not get caught short…

    …the finale on the champs-elysees showed the brilliance of his leadout team, particularly hincapie & renshaw but when handed the reins, cavo seriously horse-powered to the win…farrar & hushovd ???…if they’d positioned themselves properly for that massively fast right turn before the finish, there wouldn’t be any need for talk (& excuses were made afterwards) or hand wringing…
    …& it wasn’t like a typical stage finish where they didn’t know what was coming up ‘cuz they’d just ridden it a half a dozen times…

    …cav’s celebration at the line was simple, emotional & honestly heartfelt ‘cuz nobody was gonna beat mark cavendish in paris…nobody !!!…

  6. Robot

    My two cents: The kid is 23. He’s immature. At 23 I couldn’t find my ass with both hands.

    He’ll learn, and in the meantime he’ll win a lot of races.

  7. th

    @bikesgonewild: “after that hokey relegation (c’mon thor ???)”
    What a lot of people seem to have missed is that the decision to relegate Cav had already been made by the jury independently before they even received Cervelo’s protest. So while Cervelo did protest, the relegation would have happened even if they didn’t.

  8. grolby

    bikesgonewild: Cav would have been difficult to impossible to beat on the Champs in any case, but the way Garmin screwed the pooch on that final turn was perhaps the most epic leadout fail I’ve ever seen in the Tour (admittedly, I haven’t been watching for long). It was all the more painful after the brilliant way they stole control of the field from Columbia in the last 2k. Much has been made of how they lost Maskaant in the midst of that, but as bad as that was, it wasn’t the death blow. Tyler Farrar said after the stage that they “just ran out of steam,” because they were short a man, but what the hell else was he going to say? That his teammates cost him even a chance at the win because they took that last turn like amateurs? Because that’s clearly what happened, but it’s also what you never, EVER say if you value the efforts of their teammates – don’t bitch to the media about how they screwed up. Garmin bungled that so badly that Renshaw could have won that stage easily, and the Champs is basically the perfect sprint for a guy like Farrar. Ouch. Good on him for getting third in spite of everything.

    Cav would be tough to beat without his leadout train. As it is, if you want to beat Columbia you have to be absolutely perfect, and no one was even close the entire Tour. Thor only won his stage because Cav couldn’t quite hang on that final climb. Farrar has shown this year that he’s world class, but so far, the Garmin leadout train, such as it is, has been bringing a knife to a cruise missile engagement.

  9. Jim Morehouse

    One can’t do what Thor did in the mountains and just be a wheelsucking sprinter. He showed that he is more than just a fine sprinter, he’s a fine road racer who’s fit and willing to risk that fitness on a well timed and well earned succesful breakaway.

  10. bikesgonewild

    …”th”…thanks & i wasn’t aware of that…i still think it was a poor decision on the ‘uci’ officials part & i’m betting it was unduly influenced by hushovds reaction at the line & i see that more as abject frustration on hushovd’s part simply because, try as he might, the englishman is just faster in a straight line…the ‘columbia/htc protest was only re-enforcement…
    …as padraig suggests, we’ve all seen as bad or worse…

    …guys win sprints coming off the wheels of someone other than a teammate all the time as witness mr hushovd’s (who i have massive respect for, btw) need for trying to plant himself on cav rear wheel whenever possible but ya, you gotta be reading the situation at all times & ya gotta pick the right wheel at the right time…clearly, nobody did but cav on sunday…

    …but quite right, grolby, it did look like garmin jumped the gun & just plain blew it…farrar will have his day ‘cuz that kid is also fast…young & unassuming but definitely fast…
    …btw…despite stapleton’s “we’ve just won more races” comparison of the two teams, garmin did get second, after astana, in the team competition compared to columbia’s 14th out of 20…

    …but again……“cav’s celebration at the line was simple, emotional & honestly heartfelt ‘cuz nobody was gonna beat mark cavendish in paris…nobody !!!”

  11. HidaYanra

    Full respect to Garmin if nothing else for putting up a lot more of a fight than any of the other teams did on a consistent basis all tour long. For a team that doesn’t have a long-standing train & trained team, I think they are coming along well.

    Grolby – I’d like to use “bringing a knife to a cruise missile engagement ” as my tag line for BF when i get back on, you cool with that?

  12. Aki

    I have to admit that when I tuned into stage 17 (at work) and saw the muted coverage of Hushovd on his own, I figured he was off the back after a wheel change or something. But no cars in front, so then I figured, oh, he must be totally shelled. A few minutes later I realized that he was actually in front of the field (and even the break!) and quickly read up on a text site to see exactly what happened. What an incredible ride by him, just superbe.

    Having said that, I seriously doubt that Hushovd would have gone off so early on stage 17 had he not had a point to make. It could have been such, I suppose. It’s kind of like the way Norway was attacked in WW2. In that situation, Hitler planned on invading April 10 with no real politically correct reason (he’d usually declare some kind of excuse when invading a country in the earlier years of WW2 and those leading up to it). However, on April 9, Churchill declared that the UK would mine some Norwegian waters. The invasion the next day seemed like an incredibly quick response to Churchill’s statement when, in fact, it had been in the works for a while. Likewise, Hushovd’s little adventure may have been planned, but it really seems too nicely timed. I have a feeling that it may not have happened quite so if Cavendish hadn’t made any statements to the press.

    Which is one reason why a sports team that trounces another always says, “Well, they played really well. I mean, the 20-2 final score doesn’t say the whole picture because it was really tough out there, those guys really gave us a hard time on the field.” Otherwise the trounced team will have that much more motivation to play harder next time. Case in point: Hushovd.

    Having said that, I am a fan of Cavendish as well as Thor. It’s apparent that Cavendish motivates the team to do tremendous work. Hincapie refusing to see a doctor and launching the sprint at 1k to go in the last stage? Renshaw, a rightful sprinter on his own, giving up his chances for victory so regularly? They wouldn’t extend themselves so much for someone they didn’t respect (they could easily “mess up” or something, even as a pro. And they would for a guy who may not always win (to wit, Farrar and his loyal teammates). To build such strong loyalty on a team is tough, but Cavendish has done it well.

    One thing about Hushovd and the final sprint in Paris is that he declared the jersey his first priority. Seeing as he simply had to place (as if that’s a simple guarantee), and he entered the last turn 5th I think (behind two leadout men, Renshaw and the Garmin one), he could afford some complacency. He almost entered the turn 3rd, but he eased to let the Garmin guys in. This showed to me that he was racing conservatively, frozen a bit by the big picture. At least that’s an easier approach to the finish – “Hey, if I don’t win, that’s okay, I just need to finish 15th” – and then when it gets even slightly sketchy, he can ease a touch and feel satisfied.

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