MARK Cavendish will have to wait for another chance to move up a place in the Tour de France’s record books, but history was made as Daryl Impey became the first African to wear the yellow jersey.
Cavendish was aiming to win his 25th Tour stage – enough to move level with Andre Leducq for third all-time – following victory in Marseille on Wednesday, but there was the rare sight of the Manxman coming up short in a bunch sprint finish as he gave up the chase on Andre Greipel, apparently feeling the affects of a crash late in the176.5km stage from Aix-en-Provence.
While Greipel won from Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel at the front, with Cavendish fourth, Impey came home in what proved to be a lucky 13th as he inherited the yellow jersey from his Orica GreenEdge team-mate Simon Gerrans, who was down in 48th.
It wasn’t the encore Cavendish was hoping for after he scored his first win of this year’s Tour on Wednesday. His day began with an unwelcome call from the anti-doping unit at 6.30am, and he may be in for another interrupted night’s sleep thanks to injuries to his back and shoulder.
Cavendish was in no mood to talk after the stage, but Omega Pharma-Quick Step general manager Patrick Lefevere said the Manxman was understandably upset.
“It’s the Tour de France. One day it’s all okay, the next day it’s all going wrong,” Lefevere said. “Mark crashed at the wrong moment because he had to chase back. Peter (Velits) bought him back to the front, but the team was working very hard the whole day and I think the stress of the whole day, it kills you. The team were early on the front and maybe a little bit too early. But afterwards it’s always easy. If you win everybody’s happy. If you lose everyone looks for why you didn’t win.”
Although Cavendish offered no public thoughts, his frustration was apparent from outside the team bus. “He was angry. It’s normal,” Lefevere added. “If you think you can win your 25th victory in the Tour de France, it’s important, but everything went so well yesterday, it was just a little bit too difficult today.”
Asked about Cavendish’s injuries, the team’s sport and development manager Rolf Aldag said: “I think the biggest injury is the disappointment at not winning the stage. The team tried to, but we didn’t execute it and I think that’s what bothers him the most. There’s the heat, the sun and losing some skin, he will have some pain, but I’m not a doctor so I can’t comment on how bad his injuries are.”
While Omega Pharma-Quick Step could not get it done yesterday, Lotto-Belisol executed a fine lead-out to propel Greipel to victory, putting the German second ahead of Cavendish in the points race. Sagan still leads with 159 points to Greipel’s 130 and Cavendish’s 119.
The battle for the yellow jersey is yet to really ignite as the race moves towards the mountains this weekend, but history was made all the same as Impey took over at the front. “If you’d ever told me I’d get to experience this, I’d tell you you were lying,” said the 28-year-old South African, who used to race with Chris Froome when the pair were growing up in Johannesburg.
“This is a big day for South African and African cycling. Simon got in the jersey because he won stage three, but it’s been in my reach and seeing him lead me out today shows what a great rider he is. He could easily have sat on the wheel and kept the yellow. I was the last man to lead out for Matt Goss and that left me in a good spot.”
Impey leads Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen by three seconds in the general classification, with Gerrans now third, five seconds back. Froome remains seventh, just eight seconds off the pace with rivals Alberto Contador, Ryder Hesjedal and Cadel Evans not far behind.
The stage saw the riders battle temperatures nudging 30 degrees and the howling winds of the Mistral, and as everyone tried to stay safe the peloton remained together almost all of the way, quickly catching an early solo attack from Luis Mate.
There was a heavy rate of attrition, with Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen van den Brock – fourth overall in 2010 and 2012 – and AG2R La-Mondiale’s Maxime Bouet not making the start before Nacer Bouhanni and Fredrik Kessiakoff pulled out along the way, battling illness and injury respectively.