Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck–QuickStep) will have the chance to pursue more stage victories at the Tour de France after sneaking under the cut-off on Stage 9.
The Brit, who has won two stages already this year, finished 35’49” down on Sunday’s winner Ben O’Connor – but crucially 97 seconds inside the time limit imposed by race organisers.
Cavendish was all smiles as he crossed the line flanked by teammates Michael Morkov, Tim Declercq and Dries Devenyns.
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Race officials impose a cut-off – typically 15-25% added to the stage winner’s time – to ensure no riders can take it easy on a difficult day. Those who finish outside this mark are eliminated from the race.
Riders who slip off the pace during a mountain stage form a 'grupetto' at the rear, allowing them to work together to beat the time limit and stay in the race.
The sprinters fell likes flies on Sunday with Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) missing the cut and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) abandoning. Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroen) diced with elimination after coming home with only five seconds to spare.
It means Cavendish has a huge chance to surpass Eddy Merckx's record of 34 stage wins, with the pool of top-tier sprinters significantly reduced ahead of the first rest day.
The 36-year-old, who holds the green jersey, told The Bradley Wiggins Show prior to Stage 9 that his goal was to survive until Paris.
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“I don’t know how far I’m going through the Tour, I’m aiming for Paris,” he revealed exclusively on the Eurosport podcast.
“My priority is survival, I know I can sprint. We’ll have to see, I have a good team around me.”
Cavendish was only thrust into the Tour at the eleventh hour after Deceuninck's defending green jersey Sam Bennett failed to shrug off a knee injury.
He has repaid the faith with wins on Stage 4 and Stage 6, and now looks a decent bet to hold onto green if he can make it to Paris. Cavendish is also reportedly close to signing a one-year extension with Deceuninck.
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Cavendish will have a chance to compete with the other sprinters in Stage 10 to Valence ahead of that brutal stage that goes up Ventoux twice. The next day, the race goes to Nîmes – another city where Cavendish has won before – ahead of another sprint stage to Carcassonne. This means that, on paper, Merckx’s record may well be equalled before the race even hits the Pyrenees.
And should Cav survive five days of climbs, he’ll be rewarded with two more chances to stretch his legs in a sprint either side of the deciding time trial – at Libourne in Stage 19 and then on the Champs-Elysées on the final day.
In short: there is no shortage of stages which Cavendish could win – especially a confident Cavendish surrounded by the stellar team that he has.
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