Cav and his cult of sado-masochist followers proved once again that when it comes to worshipping the pain; they have no peers.
Disciples Lars Bak and Matt Goss rode ’til they could ride no more and were washed away like timber off the deck of a freighter in a storm.
But high priests Tony Martin and Mark Renshaw were there to launch their man and yesterday’s winner, Andrй Greipel was a distant second as Cav took Tour stage number 18 and Grand Tour stage win number 28.
Cavendish and HTC; a remarkable sprinter with a remarkable team.
We watched the HTC man take his 18th stage win whilst enjoying a beer in an ‘Irish’ bar in Gaillac, location of today’s intermediate sprint point.
But our day started hours earlier, back in Rodez, with a copy of l’Equipe.
‘La revanche du “Gorille”
‘The revenge of the Gorilla’ says the headline inside l’Equipe – it’s only the third time that Greipel has bested Cav.
The first time was in 2006 in the Tour of the Rhine Valley and the second was in the Giro 2008 when Cav gifted the 17th stage to the big guy from Rostock.
But we’re not quite done with Tuesday, yet.
Teething troubles – I guess you have to have them.
I looked out at our piece when it was up on the site at gone midnight, last night and thought; ‘those aren’t the right pictures!’
It transpires that Martin’s laptop took a bad turn and re-numbered the pictures all by itself – it should be sorted by the time you read this, but apologies if it left you a tad confused, yesterday.
Wednesday dawned grey, misty and damp; it’s like that when you get near the Pyrenees; the sun bakes you or the rain chills you, there’s not much in between.
It took an age to find the race village, tucked away near the old pit winding tower – it is Blaye-les-Mines, after all.
The rain doesn’t stop Daniel Mangeas from talking; nothing does – even with no riders in sight he’s reeling off palmares by the score.
And despite the down pour, the TV interviews have to go on, Samuel Dumoulin, Leonardo Duque are patient and polite and so too is Ivan Basso – a nation’s hopes rest on his shoulders.
Talking of responsibilities, Tommy Voeckler was out in the downpour signing autographs like a man possessed.
He showed panache getting in that late break yesterday – just a pity it didn’t stick.
The other man who showed his class in that late break was Philippe Gilbert, he was all smiles and looking good in a green gillet to match his maillot – cool.
Later on we grabbed a shot of him with a similarly beaming Thor Hushovd, topping up on free Power Bars at the start.
But all these nice pics weren’t getting the boys grub – where’s that damn Village?
Security is tighter all round on the Tour this year, creds are ‘swiped’ as you enter the village to ensure they’re genuine – that was never the case before and our chum Celine who’s been on the Tour Village gate for the six years I’ve been coming doesn’t like the system; ‘so slow!’
No scrambled eggs in the village but lovely coffee, fruit tart, bread, cheese, waffles, a crazy band and a new girlfriend for Martin.
There’s one lone rider in the village, a rather despondent looking Sebastien Turgot – he huddles in a corner chatting to relatives.
On our way out of the Village we meet Mikhail Ignatyev looking for the sign on; ‘la bas’ (over there) we tell him and point to the sign-on podium; Katusha go down the transparent race cape route.
But that’s not for ‘Mr. Style,’ Danilo Hondo, he’s gone for a tailored blue number – I’d love to see that man’s wardrobe.
Meanwhile, team mate Ale Jet exasperated the mechanic with last gasp adjustments.
We grab a few more snaps on our way back to the car, it’s almost roll out time; Martin with le Blaireau, Spanish flyer Francisco Ventoso and a glum looking Big George Hincapie.
Daniel Oss was up jousting with the big finishers yesterday, he’s talked to PEZ before and is going to give us a rest day interview – time to go.
It’s wet but that doesn’t deter le picniques; we stop to take a shot and it would be impolite not to take a glass of rose.
And we do take a moment to think about Laurent Fignon.
Our original game plan was to do the round of the team buses and get ‘sound bites’ – the rain put paid to that.
But we also wanted to see the ‘hot spot’ sprint.
Much has been made of the ASO’s decision to change the script of the green jersey competition; loading more points into one major rather than several minor points sprints.
Today the sprint point is at the end of a long, fast straight; as is the convention, the break rides through the line without contesting – they have bigger fish to fry and don’t want to break their rhythm.
Tristan Valentin (Cofidis & France), Andriy Grivko (Astana & Ukraine), Mickael Delage (FDJ & France), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel & Spain) and Lars Boom (Rabobank & Holland).
The peloton is in much more of a hurry, as a long, long line stretches behind Cav, Greipel, Rojas and Gilbert who’d kill for one more point.
Despite the fact that it’s a nice straight wide road, the protagonists are all clustered on the left, elbow to elbow.
We think Cav takes it – the peloton streams by with just one AG2R back among the cars.
It was gone midnight when we got to bed last night so we’re not going to the finish today – apart from anything else, the riders will be in the buses in a trice after the stage, with this rain.
We grab some frites before finding our ‘Irish Bar’ – the beer isn’t cheap but the plasma screen is cool and there are plenty seats.
Lotto and HTC chase, with a little help from Sky and Garmin; the gap is coming down too fast for the break to survive – 1:33 with 34 K to go.
But it stabilises around 90 seconds as the road rises and the big rouleurs weight plays against them.
The break continues with the Hellish poker game – all or nothing; maybe glory but more likely the stinging pain of a rampaging bunch howling past within sight of the line.
Boom displays the power that made him an U23 world TT champion; the group ride ‘bit and bit’ now, riding through and off to keep the speed up, rather than ‘spells.’
The peloton is flying, HTC do what they do best; driving the peloton as if the Devil himself were chasing them.
Flat roads- fatal for the break and a gift for HTC.
The seconds fly away, Boom jumps his erstwhile soul mates, but Lampre are helping HTC and even the giant power of Boom is useless.
Cav sways and grimaces but would rather lose an arm than Renshaw’s wheel.
Petacchi doesn’t show, Tyler is third, Feillu for all his acrobatics is lengths back; all victims of the mighty Cav – the new God of sprinting.
It gets real tomorrow – one first and two hors categorie climbs en route to Luz Ardiden.
And maybe the sun will shine at the start ?