Mark Cavendish won his second Tour de France sprint of 2021 and his career third in Châteauroux, executing another text-book finish after his Deceuninck-QuickStep team dominated the lead out in the final kilometres.
Lead-out man Michael Mørkøv again guided Cavendish in the high-speed finale of stage 6, dropping him on the wheel of Alpecin-Fenix duo Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier. As Cavendish then surged away to victory, Mørkøv was able to see Cavendish’s 32nd Tour de France victory unfold in front of him.
Mørkøv is the undisputed best lead-out man of his generation, and arguably one of the best of all time. Yet even he was surprised to see Cavendish back to his very best after three years in the wilderness due to several bouts of the Epstein-Barr virus and tension at the Dimension Data team.
“He’s really unbelievable,” the Dane said, the self-control he usually shows in sprints and when speaking post race replaced by sheer admiration for the way Cavendish has fought back to win again at the Tour de France.
“I said it before the Tour, at the Tour of Belgium and at the start of the year, that I didn’t feel he had the speed he once had, but seeing the sprint, it’s the Cavendish we know from 10 years ago.
“I don’t think we’ve seen many riders performing at such a high level for so many years.”
Cavendish doesn’t want to hear talk about him bettering Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stage victories, but Mørkøv seems ready to go for it.
“He only needs two more wins, so it’s certainly possible,” Mørkøv said, knowing his words would provoke the Manxman.
Cavendish has a total of 153 career wins on his palmares. Mørkøv has his own superb sprint palmares in the lead out at the biggest races in the sport after working with Elia Viviani and Sam Bennett in recent years, and before that for Alexander Kristoff at Katusha and Peter Sagan at Tinkoff-Saxo.
He only worked with Cavendish for the first time at the Baloise Belgium Tour but the two have quickly clicked, instinctively understanding each other’s sprinting styles.
“It was an amazing sprint today, I was very impressed,” Mørkøv said with the respect of a sprint master, who has lived thousands of sprints.
“He’s probably the most experienced sprinter I’ve worked with. He’s won more than 150 races, he’s been sprinting for more than a decade against the best. He again showed that he knows how to handle the sprints as well.”
Mørkøv revealed that Cavendish and all of the Deceuninck-QuickStep team really wanted another sprint win before the stage rolled out of Tours, even if it meant leading the chase of the break and using the whole team in the lead out.
Like the great sprint teams of the past, the Belgian team are not afraid to take control of a sprint, knowing they can match or better anything their rivals can try in the final kilometre.
“He really wanted it,” the Dane confirmed. “He’s won here twice before so now has won all three times he has sprinted here, that’s a pretty good record… I think the green jersey gives him wings.
“It’s not often you see a whole team lining it up like that but we had to do it early because there were two strong guys in [Roger] Kluge and [Greg] Van Avermaet in front and they were going fast in the last 20 kilometres.
“We spent some guys [in the chase] but we have such a strong team that we could pull them back and still put us into a good position.”
When Mathieu van der Poel dragged his Alpecin-Fenix teammates up the other side of the road with 500 metres to go, Mørkøv did not panic and switched sides to join them. Confident in his own ability, he waited for the right moment to drop Cavendish on their wheels down the middle of the road to ensure he had a perfect lead out and be able to decide when to come off their wheels and open his sprint.
“I just focus on my own job, I don’t worry about the others. That’s what has worked well for me in the past and use the experience I have,” Mørkøv explained, revealing the details of yet another winning move.
“I knew we were running a little early into the sprint, so I know I had to just keep Cav up front, knowing that he’ll follow whoever comes from behind. My duty was to keep the speed as high as possible to dissuade other surges, so that Cav squeezed in at the right moment. That’s exactly what he did.”