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NIMES, France (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) remains one stage short of matching the Eddy Merckx all-time mark after a breakaway held clear in Thursday’s transition stage across the Rhone Valley.
Cavendish’s pursuit of the record took a major turn in the Tour de France’s first week when his top rival in the sprints, Caleb Ewan, crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone on stage 3. Lotto-Soudal came to this Tour with a strong lead-out team intent on winning in the sprints with Ewan.
Would Ewan have topped Cavendish in the bunch sprints? We’ll never know, of course. But Roger Kluge, one of the veterans of Lotto Soudal’s sprint train, believes his teammate would have given Cavendish a run for his money in the kicks to the line.
We caught up with Kluge to discuss Cavendish’s success, life in the Tour de France grupetto, and the hypothetical question on everyone’s mind: would Caleb Ewan have beaten Mark Cavendish in the sprints?
VeloNews: The big buzz right now is who can beat Mark Cavendish in the sprints?
Roger Kluge: Looks like nobody. In a flat fast sprint, he proved it now three times that he’s in a good shape and a good level. With the guys that are left in the Tour, he’s the fastest clearly on a flat sprint. There will be some sprints with a little rise that guys like van Aert or Philipsen can beat him then.
VN: How big of a surprise is Cav’s success inside the bunch among the pros?
RK: It is a surprise. No one really expected, and maybe he did not expect it. He was happy to keep racing, and coming back to the team where he was before and where he felt good. In the end, one thing came to another, and he enjoyed racing again, and he got better, and the first win came up. For a sprinter, if they get back into the winning mode, the chances get bigger to repeat it again. He showed he is a super-class sprinter in more than a decade, and he is a legend.
— Radio Tour EN 🇬🇧 (@radiotour_en) July 6, 2021
VN: We will never know, but do you think Caleb Ewan would have beaten him in the sprints?
RK: Yep, I am pretty sure. If they would sprint against each other, Caleb was in a great shape, and he is slightly quicker, lighter and he is younger. Cav is at a high level, and he also has a good team, maybe with a better lead-out train than we have, but we also came here with a good train for the final to support Caleb as long as possible. We still believe that Caleb would be fast on a few stages, but we will never find out. We don’t have to think about it. We lost him early, and now it’s up to us to chase the victories.
VN: How is Caleb doing now? Is he watching the Tour?
RK: I don’t think he’s watching the Tour. He’s pretty upset about what happened. I think he is still resting, and I think he is still recovering, and will restart with some roller sessions this week. I know him well, and I do not think he will be watching the sprint stages at the Tour on days he would like to win. He can enjoy family time, and he comes back with a fresh mind, maybe to the Vuelta. He was in a good level, and with a collarbone, you’re only a week out or so, and you can start re-set on the rollers, so you are not losing so much form. He will be fresh and motivated for more victories.
VN: How is the ‘gruppetto’ organized these days? Is there a ‘capo’ or someone to take control of the group to make sure everyone makes the time-cut?
RK: Since a few years ago it’s not well-organized. There is always a point when riders get dropped, and the gruppetto is smaller than it was five, eight, 10 years ago. Organizing it, well, with these days, if Cavendish gets in trouble, he will be surrounded by some of his teammates, so if you have a bad day, you have to try to hang on with those guys. So far they have brought him home. It has been enough, and no one has had to say, OK guys, we need to pick up the speed. So far, every mountain stage was not a fight to the line to make the time-cut, but even some guys did not make it.
VN: Will you arrive to Paris before traveling to Tokyo to race in the Madison and omnium on the track?
RK: Yes, I think I will have enough time to make the switch to the track. It is not ideal to race three weeks for the track races, but I am firstly here to the Tour. We had a goal to win stages with Caleb, and I made preparation for that. After that, I can do preparation for Tokyo.