Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Cavendish faces an uphill battle to beat Merckx’s record on the brutal Tour de France route in 2022

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Mark Cavendish is aiming to win a record-breaking 35th stage of the Tour in 2022, but the paved, windy route won’t make it easy

Mark Cavendish faces a tough battle for his 35th stage record win in the Tour de France in 2022 and not only because at 37, when most sprinters have long been retired, age will not be on his side. And he certainly knows.

The carefully neutral reaction of the Deceuninck Quick Step racing driver to the Tour 2022 route would have done an experienced diplomat a credit, let alone the greatest sprinter on the tour of all time.

The brutal reality for Cavendish is that 2022 is a lot tougher compared to the relatively easy Tour course last year. With the Olympic Games right afterwards, the organizers did not want to prevent potential Tokyo candidates from participating in 2021.

Yes, at seven the number of potential sprint stages is only one less than in 2021, when Cavendish achieved his four victories and set Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage record with a total of 34.

But the key word there is “potential”. While the flat stages of 2021 were almost all cheap for mass sprints, with terrain easy enough for Cavendish’s teammates to easily keep things under control, 2022 is a whole different story.

Stage two, for example, leads through western Denmark (see map below), not exactly famous for its hills. But a 17-kilometer bridge is also perfect for North Sea crosswinds to break up the peloton and ruin Cavendish’s chances of a sprint final.

Another hypothetically favorable day for the Manxman, the fourth stage to Calais, could already have crosswinds on the coastal roads beforehand. Other potential sprint stages to Lausanne and St. Etienne are on rough roads – again much harder for Cavendish’s team to control.

Nor will it help Cavendish that the 2022 mountain stages – three in the Alps, four in the Pyrenees – are so much more difficult than 2021. Memories of 2018 when he dropped out of the tour after finishing an Alpine stage outside of the maximum time limit are too fresh to be faded.

On the plus side, Cavendish won in Tours as hard as before. With the Deceuninck-Quick Step, Cavendish can also count on the same highly committed support drivers who have put him in perfect position over and over again in the past year to race to victory.

But in 2021 the Tour route was ideal for Cavendish, who returned after a three-year absence, both to regain a foothold in the world’s biggest cycling race and to miss some clear opportunities.

In 2022, his margin of error is much, much lower, and expectations and pressures are much greater. All this if the stakes for the 35th Tour stage win could hardly be higher.

By Julien Pretot

The organizers of the Tour de France have designed an extremely treacherous route for the 2022 edition, which offers rides in gusty winds, cobblestones and strenuous mountain stages.

The race begins with a 13 km individual time trial in Copenhagen before the second stage leads the peloton over the 18 km bridge of the Great Belt.

“It’s windy here on 364 days a year,” said Tour Director Christian Prudhomme when the route map was unveiled. “This tour can be lost on the second day.”

Anyone who has survived the three-day opening block in Denmark and the fourth stage through the hills of Flanders will have to tackle the fifth stage through cobblestones between Lille and Arenberg.

Then easy climbers will have to suffer on a day that could be marred by falls and mechanics due to the difficult terrain usually preferred by one-day race specialists.

“To pass these stages and hope to win the tour, you have to be a versatile rider and have a strong team,” said Thierry Gouvenou, deputy director of the tour.

The first test for climbers comes on the seventh stage with the first of five summit arrivals on the Planche des Belles Filles, where defending champion Tadej Pogacar won his first title in 2020 by annoying his Slovenian compatriot Primoz Roglic in the final time trial.

Pogacar, who beat his rivals in the mountains in the last edition, also proved that he is a strong one-day classic, having won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia Monument classics and given the nature of the Es is hard to see a tour favorite beyond him.

The race reaches its highest point on the summit of the breathtaking climb to Col du Galibier, 2,607 meters above sea level, on the way to the summit destination on Col du Granon (2,413 meters) after a strenuous effort of 11.3 km on an average incline of 9.3 percent

The 12th stage begins in Briancon and ends on the iconic Alpe d’Huez (13.8 km with 8.1 percent). It follows the same route as the 1986 Tour, when five-time winner Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond crossed the finish line hand in hand for a famous one-two.

The Frenchman had announced that he would help his La Vie Claire team win the race a year after benefiting from the American’s help in the previous edition.

“Both should be on the tour for this stage next year,” said Prudhomme of the former riders.

After two brutal stages in the Pyrenees, the race is concluded with a 40 km individual time trial in southwest France and the mostly procedural drive to the Champs Elysees in Paris.

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