The dream stays alive: Mark Cavendish is not giving up on number 35

The Manx rider didn’t contest the win in the first sprint opportunity of the 2024 Tour de France, but still cut an optimistic figure after the stage

Every day at the 2024 Tour de France so far, the Astana Qazaqstan Team bus has been swarmed with people at the end of each stage. There is the scrum of reporters trying to get quotes from Mark Cavendish, combined with the crowds of fans trying to get his signature, mixing into a hectic crush. For the last two days, everyone was there because the Manx rider had only just scraped through the time cut on the opening two hilly stages in Italy, and everyone wanted to know the story of his brutal day. Today, everyone was there because the first sprint stage had passed, and Cavendish did not get Tour de France victory number 35.

It’s fair to say that the last few days have not instilled huge confidence in the Astana rider’s ability to fulfil the dreams of so many cycling fans and get the fairytale ending to his career. Cavendish has come in around half an hour down on the stage winners on the first two days of this race. Stage one was the most concerning – Cavendish was dropped early on the steep Italian hills, suffering from heatstroke and filmed vomiting on to his handlebars. It looked, then, like the dream could be over before it even started. 

Yet the 39-year-old fought valiantly through, and the third stage provided terrain that was far more suited to his strengths. The flat 230 kilometre route to Turin went exactly to script: the bunch rolled slowly through the Italian countryside and there was nothing to trouble the sprinters who prepared for their first showdown of the race. 

That was, however, until a late crash split up a host of sprint trains, including Mark Cavendish's Astana Qazaqstan ensemble. It was then that the glimmers of hope of Cavendish making history today began to dwindle.

“I was just behind that crash. Something was going to happen then, you can kind of feel it, but you don’t know when, you don’t know where. Then I heard stuff happening ahead. You’re waiting for it to come close, you’re on the brakes, skidding. You’re waiting for someone to hit you from behind. But thankfully it was ok, and I think no-one’s seriously hurt,” Cavendish said after the stage. “You don’t want anyone to crash, but I don’t think anyone’s seriously hurt, which is very, very good news. We didn’t sprint, but we’re safe. That’s the main thing.”

When asked about how his form was after two tough days in the hills leading up to today’s sprint, Cavendish was honest that he wasn’t feeling his best on the bike.

“I don’t think anybody’s legs are feeling good, to be fair. Pogačar maybe, his legs feel good. Everybody else is a little bit tired,” he said. “It was ok, it was a long day. It wasn’t easy enough that you could recover, it wasn’t hard enough. It was just a little bit uncomfortable all day. But it’s ok. I’ve kept something in my legs, and I’m ready to hit the Alps tomorrow.”

The next sprint opportunity comes for Cavendish on stage five, but he has the brutal Galibier climb to struggle up tomorrow before he gets there. While the opening three days haven’t gone to plan for the Astana rider, his grin was still filled with optimism as he spoke to journalists at the end of today's stage.

Is the dream still alive?

“We keep going,” Cavendish said.

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