Tjhe "Manx Missile" Mark Cavendish sprinted to his 21stt career stage win during Stage 2 of the 2012 Tour de France, putting rivals on notice that he can still dominate.
Even with Team Sky dedicated to protecting general classification (GC) contender Bradley Wiggins during flat stages, Cavendish was able to succeed. Using former teammate—and now rival—Andre Greipel as the unexpected perfect lead-out man, he jumped from the German’s slipstream to collect the victory.
Greipel was noticeably disappointed following the stage, with this to say (via CyclingNews):
I’m extremely disappointed. The team delivered me perfectly. Cavendish was strong, so my congratulations to him. Too bad we had to do all the work. What can you say. Of course I’m disappointed but that’s racing. We wanted to compete in every sprint and I think the guys did a great job. It didn’t work out. I just can keep on trying.
It’s true that Greipel’s Lotto Belisol worked hard at the front of the race towards the end of the stage, ensuring the peloton kept a high pace heading into the final sprint. However, Cavendish demonstrated he doesn’t need a full lead out train like many people—including myself—believed he would need to succeed.
Meanwhile, Team Liquigas rider Peter Sagan, after winning Stage 1 of the 2012 Tour, learned a harsh lesson in pure sprinting (via VeloNation):
It is the first time that I have disputed a sprint in the Tour de France and I can see that it is different to everything I have experienced before. The battle for places is a lot harder, and it’s very dangerous. I was very well positioned behind Greipel, and then suddenly I found myself much further back. I’ll have to learn to be much more aggressive in these situations. This is a very good experience.
It looks like the Tour’s flat stages have gained quite a bit of significance, as there are several storylines to follow over the next three weeks.
Understanding Team Sky won't chase back any breakaway riders, the other sprinters may order teammates to try to jump ahead of the road in a breakaway. This will prevent several teams from putting in all of the work of chasing only to have Cavendish seemingly appear out of nowhere in the waning meters for the sprint.
Cycling veterans Oscar Freire and Alessandro Petacchi are going to likely find it difficult to try to compete for stage wins, so they may have to try to outsmart the younger, faster sprinters.
Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan all appear ready to battle, and the peloton also includes Team Saxo Bank’s JJ Haedo, GreenEDGE's Matt Goss, and Garmin-Sharp rider Tyler Farrar as well.