MARK Cavendish swapped antibiotics for the sweet taste of success as he got his 2013 Tour de France rolling with victory on the seafront in Marseille.
The Manxman yesterday shrugged off the lingering effects of a bout of bronchitis to claim his 24th Tour stage win as he beat former team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky to the line.
Cavendish got a huge lead-out from his Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad – beaten by Orica GreenEdge in Tuesday’s team time trial by a single second – and came off the wheel of Gert Steegmans to break for the line, holding off Boasson Hagen while Andre Greipel came in third and points leader Peter Sagan was fourth.
The victory on stage five leaves Cavendish one shy of Andre Leducq’s 25 Tour stage wins, third on the all-time list behind Eddy Merckx (34) and Bernard Hinault (28), and he will fancy his chances of matching Leducq on today’s flat stage to Montpellier.
There were questions over Cavendish’s health coming into the day after the 28-year-old revealed he had been battling an infection in the days leading up to the Tour, keeping quiet about the condition in the hope of leading his rivals astray.
They might have got wind of it as he was dropped in the Corsican mountains, but in the city where he rode in his first professional race, the 2007 Grand Prix d’Ouverture La Marseillaise – won by Britain’s Jeremy Hunt – he looked back on form.
“The pressure is now off, for sure because we’ve won a stage of the Tour de France,” Cavendish said. “It would have been nice to win yesterday but it’s not to be underestimated how hard it is to get one stage win on this race.
“I didn’t feel great today but when the guys are committed like they were – not just in the final, but all the way today – it’s important to pay them back.They show their motivation by riding themselves into the ground and, like I always say, that really does give you something extra. If I’d lost that sprint, I really wasn’t paying the lads back.”
Such had been Cavendish’s condition, there were suggestions Omega Pharma-Quick Step would sit back yesterday and leave others to contest the finish.But instead they had eight riders on the front in the final kilometres, with world time trial champion Tony Martin able to play a major role despite the catalogue of injuries he suffered in an opening day crash.
They came to the Statue de David and the last of the record 55 roundabouts in yesterday’s stage perfectly placed and Cavendish took full advantage.
“I’m super happy,” said Cavendish, who left Team Sky in the winter having been frustrated by their focus on the general classification. “This is what I was employed for at Omega Pharma-Quick Step: to come here and win stages and we did that today.”
The win boosts Cavendish up the points standings in this year’s Tour, with a gap to Sagan which had stood at 49 cut to 35 as Cavendish moved into second place on 76. “I lost a couple of points [to Cavendish] but that’s okay, the important thing is to not lose too many,” Sagan said.