TOURNAI, Belgium (Reuters) - A leaner Mark Cavendish showed he was still too talented for the rest of the Tour de France bunch, outpacing his rivals for victory in the 207.5-km second stage in Tournai on Monday.
The Briton did not need any help to upstage Andre Greipel and Matthew Goss on a podium reminiscent of the last world championships in Copenhagen, when the Manx missile also beat the Australian and the German for gold.
It was the world champion’s 21st stage victory on the Tour and an unusual one as he had to fend for himself, while previously he could rely on the ‘train’ formed by his former HTC Columbia team mates.
It was also a striking reply to those who doubted his chances in a Team Sky devoted to the overall success of fellow-Briton Bradley Wiggins.
“The team this year is for the yellow jersey. It’s a new configuration and I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Cavendish told reporters.
“I’m much more alone but I’m much more relaxed in a sense. I came into the sprint with the least pressure I ever had on the Tour,” he added.
“I’m happy to win a stage like today’s to show I’m the world champion and to show I could do it without a team to help me.”
The Briton had already proved in his three stage victories on the Giro d’Italia that he could handle any kind of race finish and he again manoeuvred perfectly in the final yards of this long ride from Vise.
Since the Italian Tour, Cavendish has lost three kilos to prepare for the Olympic road race, held on a bumpy course, and many of his rivals had wondered how it would affect his finishing power.
It did not, as Greipel and Goss found out.
While Greipel’s Lotto Belisol team mates and Goss’s Orica Greenedge partners tried to organise and lead their strong men out for the final sprint, Cavendish came back on his own from the middle of the bunch to stick to Greipel’s wheel and beat him on the line.
The victory made the Isle of Man rider the sixth most successful on the Tour in terms of stage wins, and he is now only one victory short of seven-times champion Lance Armstrong and vintage French sprinter Andre Darrigade.
In the points classification, Cavendish trails first stage winner Peter Sagan of Slovakia by 15 points but he pledged to defend the green jersey so dearly won a year ago even if his main goal of the season remains the Olympic title in London.
“I’ll keep trying. This is the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world, the most important event in cycling. I cannot say the Games are more important. Let’s say they’re level,” he said.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara stayed out of trouble to retain the overall leader’s jersey won in the prologue.
“I’m glad to return to France with the yellow jersey on. I hope to have better legs tomorrow because it’s a hard stage we have marked down with my team management a while ago,” he said.
Tuesday’s third stage takes the peloton to Boulogne-sur-Mer over 197 km of a bumpy, tricky ride especially as rain is forecast.
Additional reporting by Mark Meadows; Editing by Alison Wildey