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Coming off the German’s wheel, Cavendish narrowly passed Greipel to take his second stage victory on the third day of the Tour de France; Coquard beat Sagan in the battle for third but the Slovakian retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti












04.07.2016 @ 18:31 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) confirmed that he is back at his best level by claiming a second Tour de France stage win in just three days of racing. In a very close photo finish, he beat arch-rival André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) in a bunch kick in Angers. Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) narrowly edged out Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in the battle for third but fourth place was enough for the Slovakian to retain the lead.


A few years ago, Mark Cavendish was the overwhelming favourite for every sprint stage at the Tour de France but during the last few years his winning rate has declined dramatically. In 2009, he won no less than six stages but with the emergence of Marcel Kittel and André Greipel, he has only won two stages during the three last editions.


With a relatively quiet spring season, Cavendish again flew under the radar for this year’s Tour de France and all the pre-race hype was about Kittel and Greipel. However, the Brit proved that he still has it when he upset the two Germans in the first sprint stage and today he proved that he is fully back to his best by taking his second win.


In the first stage, he held off Kittel in a direct duel and today it was Greipel who came up short in the battle for victory. Again Cavendish had done everything right to be on the right wheel in the finale. Greipel was dropped off in the perfect position and started his sprint from the front but Cavendish was right behind and narrowly edged him out in a photo finish. In fact, it was so close that no one could call the winner and Greipel had even raised his arm in celebration, briefly believing that he had beaten his arch-rival.


It was a very strange stage ridden at a very low speed with just lone escapee Armindo Fonseca (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) in the front. A rather bizarre race where no one was chasing finally came to life when Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) bridged across to Fonseca but the pair was brought back with 8km to go.


All the trains were lined out next to each other on the big, wide road before Iljo Keisse took control for Etixx-QuickStep. Maarten Wynants took over for LottoNL-Jumbo before IAM came to the front with Reto Hollenstein bringing Sondre Holst Energe into position.


With 5km to go, Cannondale hit the front with Ramunas Navardauskas who did an excellent job to keep team captain Pierre Rolland safe in third position and he stayed there for a while. Tony Martin tried to launch the Etixx-QuickStep train but as he had lost Fabio Sabatini and Kittel, he and Maximilano Richeze had to slow down.


Lotto Soudal seemed to be out of the battle as they were very far back when Direct Energie hit the front with Adrien Petit, Angelo Tulik and local hero Bryan Coquard. Petit took a massive turn before Etixx-QuickStep finally took control with 3km to go.


Martin was riding on the front before Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) gave the Belgian team a chance to recover. Fabian Cancellara then came to the fore for Trek but he had lost his sprinter Edward Theuns.


Orica-GreenEDGE did everything perfectly to take control with Daryl Impey with 2km to go but one of their riders crashed from second position. Instead, it was Etixx-QuickStep that won the battle, with Richeze, Sabatini and Kittel leading under the flamme rouge.


However, it was too early and it was easy to come from behind. LottoNL-Jumbo hit the front with Sep Vanmarcke and then Robert Wagner did the lead-out for Dylan Groenewegen.


The Dutchmen were unable to match the speed of Mark Renshaw but the Australian was passed by Jurgen Roelandts who gave Greipel the perfect lead-out. The German started his sprint from the front but he was narrowly passed by Cavendish in the end. Coquard edged Peter Sagan out in the battle for third while Kittel had to start his sprint from far back and settled for seventh behind Theuns and Sondre Holst Enger (IAM).


Sagan retained his lead with an 8-second advantage over Julian Alaphilippe. There should be another chance to sprint for him in tomorrow’s fourth stage which is the longest of the race. After a flat start, the terrain gets slightly lumpier in the finale where there’s a category 4 climb with 55.5km to go. However, the real challenge is the uphill sprint as the final 500m average around 5%.


A flat stage

After yesterday’s flat stage, it was back into flat terrain for stage 3 which brought the riders over 223.5km from Granville to Angers. There was early category 4 climb but otherwise it was an almost flat run that started the journey to the mountains. However, a technical sprint was waiting in the finale as there was a right-hand turn with 300m to go and the final kilometre was uphill at 2-3%.


The 198 riders were still in the race when the peloton gathered at noon under a cloudy and dry sky. As is almost always the case on flat stages in the first week, not many had the courage to embark on a suicide attack. In fact, it was only Armindo Fonseca (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) who gave it a go and when he attacked right from the start, the peloton let him go. After just 2.5 kilometers of racing, he was already 40 seconds ahead and at the 18km map, the gap had grown to 5.50.


Tinkoff in control

The peloton was obviously not concerned with a 223km solo campaign so they let Fonseca build a gap up 8.10 before he hit the day's only climb. At the top, he had increased his advantage to 9 minutes, and it peaked at 11.05 before Tinkoff took the initiative to slowly start the chase. After a first hour with an average speed of 38.4 km/h, they slowly began to reduce the gap which was already down to 7.50 after just 20 minutes of work. It dropped to 5.45 before Tinkoff eased off a bit.


With just one rider in the break, it was a very slow stage and the riders only covered 34.2km during the second hour. In the peloton, it was the Tinkoff pair of Maciej Bodnar and Oscar Gatto setting the pace and they had again allowed the gap to go out to 7 minutes with 150km to go.


A bizarre pace

With no wind, there was absolutely no stress in the peloton and the riders had plenty of time to catch up with each other. At the same time, Fonseca slowed down, hoping that riders would jump across. Bodnar and Gatto did their best to hold back but they couldn’t prevent the gap from coming down and it was onlt 5.15 when they entered the final 130km.


Fonseca continued to ride slowly and so he only had an advantage of 4 minutes when he reached the feed zone. The peloton took plenty of time to refuel and stay safe in a place that is usually pretty dangerous and then Tinkoff stopped their work. Instead, Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) rode on the front but they were focused on their small chat than bringing down the gap which was 3.30 with 115km to go.


Voeckler takes off

Sagan replaced De Gendt as Burghardt’s chat partner but otherwise nothing happened and the peloton didn’t react when Fonseca gave up on his plan of getting company from behind. He slowly managed to push the gap out to 4.45 during the next 25km.


Burghardt and De Gendt returned to the front but they didn’t chase. When the gap had gone out to 5.30, the race became too boring for Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) who made a solo attack. However, the peloton was not too concerned and didn’t react at all. Hence, Voeckler already had a 2-minute advantage after just 3km.


The chase gets organized

Fonseca decided to wait for Voeckler and the two Frenchmen joined forces with 82km to go. Hence, a duo had gathered with an advantage of 5.00.


The peloton finally reacted and it was Bodnar, Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) and Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep) who initiated the chase. They increased the pace to 50km/h and the big teams immediately turned on the attention and gathered near the front.


Kittel wins the sprint

The chase work paid off immediately as the gap had already dropped to 3.25 when they hit the final 75km. During the next 10km, they shaved another minute off the lead and they left absolutely nothing to change. With 65km to go, even more firepower was added as Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) and De Gendt started to work with Vermote, Bak and Bodnar.


When Fonseca led Voeckler over the line in the intermediate sprint with 52.5km to go, the gap was already down to 1.10. Etixx-QuickStep did the full lead-out with Maximilano Richeze and Fabio Sabatini and then Marcel Kittel started his sprint from the front with Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) on his wheel. As they only did the sprint at 90%, no one passed each other and so they crossed the line in that order.


A waiting game

After the sprint, the gap had dropped to 50 seconds and so the chase stopped. While Lotto Soudal patrolled the front, Voeckler and Fonseca managed to push the gap out to 1.10 before De Gendt and Vermote again started to chase. Their effort paid off immediately as the gap was only 30 seconds with 40km to go.


It was still too early to catch the break so while the teams gathered their troops near the front, Vermote and De Gendt slowed down, allowing the gap to hover at 30-40 seconds. With 25km to go, Voeckler and Fonseca gave it a final shot ad they managed to push the gap out to almost a minute. However, De Gendt and Vermote responded quickly and with 18km to go, it was again down to 35 seconds.


With 15km to go, De Gendt ended his work and left it to Bak to work with Vermote 15 seconds behind the two French leaders. The gap was still intact as they passed the 10km banner where LottoNL-Jumbo and Direct Energie had lined up next to Vermote and Bak. With 8km to go, it was over for the escapees who were swallowed up by the peloton and then it all came down a very confusing bunch sprint.



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