Mark Cavendish imposes order

Approaching a sprint finish, the peloton is a ruddy great mess. It’s a teeming beast where lines of riders intertwine, break, attach, merge and occasionally make a gravel rash offering to the gods of the road.

Who’s leading?

Watch TV coverage and it can be hard to pick out the main contenders. They’re the ones near the front, but not at the front. Some of them are further back than others. Some are too far forward and will be committed to overlong exposure to the wind. Things only really become organised about three feet before line when everyone important’s finally gone for it.

Here there is clarity. The lead-out men have been removed from the picture and at the line we have a snapshot. Focus on it and you can easily forget the chaos that precedes it.

Clarity

The astonishing thing is that it’s so frequently Mark Cavendish who imposes order. We’ll probably only fully appreciate the apparent inevitability of that once it’s ceased to be the case. For now: “Of course Cav won. It was a flat stage and a sprint finish.”

Only it really isn’t that simple.

Interviews

To the dozens of attributes necessary for winning sprint finishes, we can also add ‘being a good interviewee’. Some carp at occasional arrogance or post-race tetchiness when heart rate and emotions are high, but can you imagine a footballer responding to a question regarding the nature of their work by using a metaphor?

Yesterday, Cavendish said that a successful lead-out train was like starting a car you’ve put together yourself. There’s extra satisfaction from knowing you’ve created something and that your hard work has paid off. He described himself as being the exhaust – “just the bit that makes the most noise.”

Then he dedicated his win to Wouter Weylandt who died in a downhill crash in the Giro two years ago. It was a textbook performance from the Manx Missile both before and after the finish line. Again.