It’s not that I don’t think Mark Cavendish is the fastest sprinter in the world. Milan-Sanremo speaks for itself. But he had an easy time of it at last year’s Tour, thanks to one of the most misguided cases in the history of arbitration and, well, that problem that Tom Boonen has.
Petacchi is getting a bit long in the tooth, and lacks the magnificent sprint train that drove him to a staggering nine victories in the ’04 Giro, but he came into this year’s event fit. Petacchi took the Giro di Toscana just last week; a stark contrast to Cav’s April build-up of hanging out at the beach with his fiancee, before failing to even finish with the group at Romandie.
While the “Gentleman Sprinter” would never admit it, he probably also came into this race angry. CAS’s idiotic decision to suspend him based on an arbitrary limit WADA has imposed on a substance with no performance enhancing qualities cost him a Giro and Tour at the top of his career. Even for a man with Petacchi’s calm public persona, that has got to chafe. That’s why I picked him to win this stage.
Cav had the leadout and the position today, but Petacchi got the drop on him, bolting around the Manxman’s left side while Cav was pinned against the barriers and blocked by his own lead-out man. Cavendish eventually got it cranked up, and appeared to close a bit from helicopter camera, but Ale-Jet still had a time to check over his shoulder and put his arms up as he crossed the line.
Cav rode with his usual intensity, solid as a statue and bumping any rider thought they could make him otherwise; I’m pretty sure he said a very naughty word when he crossed the line in second. It should provide ample motivation over what could be a very interesting next three weeks.