Mark Cavendish was extremely close to securing a record 35th Tour de France stage win on Friday afternoon, only to be edged out by the on-form Jasper Philipsen at the line.
Without a lead-out in the closing stages of the 170km stage from Mont-de-Marsan to Bordeaux, the Manxman was out of shot from the overhead camera until a little over 600 metres to go when he powered up the right-hand side of the finishing straight on the riverside.
It looked for a couple of seconds that Cav had it won, but Belgian star Philipsen was not to be denied a third stage win in the 2023 Tour and he sprinted over the line at the Place des Quinconcesa a full bike’s length in front of a bitterly disappointed Cavendish.Ten metres from the line, Cav looked to his left and his body language said it all.
He knew that the tall Alpecin-Deceuninck rider had it in the bag.
Cavendish won the last occasion the Grand Tour visited the capital of sprinting in 2010, but this time the former king had to bow to the prowess and power of the event’s new sprint star.
Marcel Kittel, one of Cav’s former rivals, admitted it was a really good opportunity for the 38-year-old Astana Qazaqstan rider.
‘Cav lost some momentum when he had to brake briefly, but it was a great, great opportunity.’
Even race winner Philipsen said he would love to see Cavendish win a stage. ‘This has been a dream Tour for us so far, but Cav is in good condition,’ he said.
On the live commentary, David Miller had said it was Mission Impossible for Cav to get to the front with 500 metres to go, but he did just that. Perhaps there is still a chance for him to pull off the win he would dearly love to achieve.
His fellow Manxman, Peter Kennaugh, agreed with Kittel in the post-race analysis: ‘It was only in the last 700 metres that Cav found himself in the position to sprint, but he had to go really early.’
Going into the Tour, Cav estimated there were only five sprint stages he could seriously aim for. He has been sixth, fifth and second in the first three, but the next is stage 18 on Thursday, July 20 in Bouurg-En-Bresse, then the grand finale three days later in Paris.
He has to complete the Massif Central and the brutal Alpine climbs in the second half of the three-week Tour before he can even contemplate either of the final two chances.