The Friday evening prior to the Grand Depart at Mont-Saint-Michel, we’re in the Amritsar Indian restaurant in Kirkcaldy – Callum, Dave and I agree that Cav has won his last Tour de France stage, Kittel and Greipel will be the men, and that the 32 stage wins record of Merckx is safe – as is Hinault’s second spot on 28 stage wins.
‘Mark will have to be happy with his 26 bouquets.’
Not for the first or last time, the little chap from the middle of the Irish Sea made us eat our words; “Cav can never win Milan-Sanremo…”
Lotto and Etixx have the big strong boys in their trains for Greipel and Kittel – Cav has a couple of Golden Oldies in Eisel and Renshaw plus Boasson-Hagen but despite what the Dimension Data press release said they were far from organised in the finale.
Both Boasson-Hagen and Renshaw were trying to find Cav in the melee; he was on his own – this was no HTC perfect delivery, this was Cav ‘doing a Robbie McEwen’ using pure instinct to position himself perfectly all the way up the finish straight then turning on the boosters to leave three of the fastest men on the planet flat footed.
Kittel and Greipel dominated the Giro sprints and Sagan ? – we know about him; a little further back were Coquard and Kristoff another two of the fastest men around.
And we must slide in an honourable mention for Dan McLay; top ten in his first Tour stage – nice job.
But 10 out of 10 to Cav then, no real train, the very best in the world all there and he beats the lot of them – respect!
The thing with Cav is that he’s set the bar so high that if he’s not winning five or six Grand Tour stages in a year we think he’s had a bad year and it’s all over.
I reached for ‘Velo 2016’, the sad bike fanatic’s bible to look back at his palmarès; it was 2005 when it all kicked off with three UCI road wins for team Sparkasse, not to mention a world madison champs with Big Bob Hayles.
The following year he again rode for Sparkasse but stagiaired with T-Mobile, netting four wins.
Staying with the ultimately doomed and damned German squad into 2007 he took 11 victories including the one that really snapped our eyes open – beating Boonen to win the Scheldeprijs and setting a record for the number of wins achieved by a neo-pro.
His ‘Golden Time’ with Team High Road/Columbia/HTC began in 2008; as Dave said at the time; ‘he’s winning for fun.’
There were 21 victories that season including two Giro and four Tour stages – he’d arrived.
And he chucked in a world madison title with Brad, just for luck.
In 2009 it got even better with 28 wins including three Giro and six Tour stages and of course, the magical Primavera – remarkable.
In 2010 the win count was back to ‘just’ 13 but there were five Tour stages and three Vuelta stages.
The following season he’d bounced back up to 16 wins including two Giro and another five Tour stage wins and that fabulous rainbow jersey.
For season 2012 with HTC unable to find a sponsor he headed for Sky, included in his 18 wins were Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, three Giro stage and three Tour stages.
It wasn’t a happy marriage though, so for 2013 he was with legendary Belgian team, QuickStep – five Giro stages, two Tour stages, the British Championship and a total of 19 wins made for a good year.
But 2014 – whilst there were wins in the Algarve, Turkey, California and Suisse – was marred by his disastrous crash on Stage One of the Tour de France when he went down hard in the Harrogate finale.
There were 11 wins, a staggering season for many; but for Cav, average – and no Grand Tour wins.
Last season, whilst he ‘only’ took one Grand Tour stage – Stage Seven of le Tour – saw 14 wins but a burning desire to win an Olympic medal on the track in Rio saw him leave Patrick Lefevre’s squad.
The Belgian Master Manager not sharing Cav’s Olympic dream – his sponsors want wins in Tour stages and Classics, not ‘sideshow’ track races.
VeloVeritas predicted he’d join MTN Qhubeka (now Dimension Data) for 2016 – and whilst we were scoffed at, we were proved correct.
His year prior to the Tour has been ‘OK’ by his standards, a stage and GC in Qatar, stages in Croatia and California not to mention another world madison title with Bradley – and all whilst pursuing a track training programme designed to make him competitive in the omnium in Rio.
The ‘Deloite’ on the team jersey is there because of Cav; with the Manxman’s wages paid by the accountancy giant the African team is more than happy to indulge his Olympic obsession.
And yesterday he repaid the sponsor and the team’s faith with a huge result for them – the stage and the maillot jaune.
Short of winning the race overall the first stage is the one to win – the world’s media are all there and itching for those images of the first maillot jaune getting pulled on.
He’s now won the points jersey and worn the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours.
He’s won a Monument, the Worlds on road and track, The Scheldeprijs, Kuurne, 45 stages in Grand Tours (27 Tour; 15 Giro and 3 Vuelta) and stages in just about every other stage race there is.
His wife was a page three model, he has two lovely children, a beautiful house in Tuscany, a McLaren in the garage… maybe that Olympic obsession isn’t so hard to understand.
He won’t be the man who has everything ‘til he has one of those big shiny discs with the Olympic rings on it.
On paper, Boudat, Viviani, Norman Hansen, Gaviria, Kluge and maybe O’Shea should all beat him in Rio – but then on paper Greipel and Kittel should have left him standing yesterday at Utah Beach…