Hopes for a home-crowd win and yellow jersey come crashing down

Bike racing sometimes goes according to the book, but there are days when it respects neither plot nor narrative

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HARROGATE, England (VN) — Men, Shakespeare wrote, are at times masters of their fates.

This day had to have felt like that for Mark Cavendish. Britain’s mercurial sprinter was poised, if bike racing had any sort of script and sentimentality, to pull on a yellow jersey Saturday in his home country, in the town in which his mother was born. Even the sun came out to play its part, pushing away the clouds and the rain that’s dappled the roads here for days, on and off.

All Cavendish had to do was win the sprint, something he’s done at the Tour de France 25 times before. His Omega Pharma-Quick Step team was dedicated, and had the peloton on the rivet with just 4km to go to the finish in Harrogate.

But cycling has shown time and time again that it has no regard for plot and anointed greatness for the sake of narrative. Today would be no different. The fault, Shakespeare wrote, following that thought about the mastery of fate, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

Near the finish line Cavendish, 29, went down in a bright blur and fury with Simon Gerrans after appearing to lean on the Orica-GreenEdge rider. Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel went on to win, the strapping villain in this grand play, though the German was already in front of Cavendish by the time of the crash.

Cavendish suffered a dislocated collarbone and ruptured ligaments in the crash, and the immediate impact of the injury isn’t yet clear. His Omega Pharma-Quick Step team said it would wait until Sunday morning before deciding whether he would start stage 2.

When Cavendish finally remounted and crossed the line, battered and wincing, the crowd cheered him loudly. He made his way to the team bus as fast as an injured man can, said nothing to the press, and went to the hospital for examination.

Afterward, via a team press release, Cav said he was “gutted” about the crash.

“It was my fault,” he added. “I’ll personally apologize to Simon Gerrans as soon as I get the chance. In reality, I tried to find a gap that wasn’t really there.

“I wanted to win today, I felt really strong and was in a great position to contest the sprint thanks to the unbelievable efforts of my team. Sorry to all the fans that came out to support — it was truly incredible.”

The Manx speedster “had lived this sprint in his mind at least 100 times before. He was so focused, he wanted to win so badly,” said team boss Patrick Lefevere. “He told me that Simon Gerrans slowed down and he really wanted to get out and he pushed and Gerrans pushed back. And that’s how he crashed.”

Everyone here, Lefevere included, seemed to know the weight of the chance to take a first yellow jersey in such a meaningful place. It was as if there was a near guilt among the riders at the finish.

“It was not a goal for me to beat Mark Cavendish in his home town, in his home country. For me it was all about winning the first stage of the Tour de France,” Kittel said. “You never like to see your competitors crash, and I hope Mark is okay, and he can race tomorrow.”

Gerrans, who was walking to the team bus, didn’t even know what happened, only that he was on the ground, and quickly.

“I don’t know yet,” he said, walking at a brisk clip in his shredded kit. “I’m going to have to have a look at the replay.”

Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who finished second on the day, said the stage was charged all along, with fans packing the road, and that he was sorry to see the sprint ace tumble.

“It was also bad luck for some guys,” Sagan said. “I’m so sorry for Mark, and I think it’s also normal here at the Tour de France. I did two times the Tour, and every year I crash. But it depends on how you crash, you know?”

The roads of Harrogate served Cavendish the polar opposite of his hopes for the opening stage of this Tour. But the truth is hard for a sprinter. Crashing is a reality, today and tomorrow.

“He’s a tough guy, you know,” said Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb. “It’s not the first time or the last time [he’ll crash].”


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