The HTC-Columbia sprinter didn’t stop until race leader Fabian Cancellera mercifully interrupted Cavendish’s post-race interview with French television.
“I think for him it’s the prettiest victory of his career,” Cancellara said as Cavendish quickly left the set. “It’s a pretty thing for the sport.”
For Cavendish, who edged out rivals on the sprint finish into Montargis, this emotional release was a long time coming.
Sidelined by health, poor judgment
The Isle of Man native, known as much for his brash personality as his on-bike talent, won six stages in last year’s Tour de France and had high expectations for the 2010 cycling season. But complications from voluntary dental surgery kept him out of action until mid-February.
When Cavendish finally returned to form in April, he was sidelined again – suspended by his team after he made an obscene gesture on the finish line of the Tour of Romandie’s second stage.
“I apologize to everybody watching the race,” Cavendish said in an April press release.
Though the first stages of the Tour de France were supposed to be redemptive for the 25-year old, they were anything but that.
“I let the guys down last night,” Cavendish admitted to reporters after today’s stage.
Searing heat, ruthless pack
With the pressure mounting, he delivered on Thursday’s 116.5-mile trip from Épernay to Montargis, one of the final stages for sprinters before the Tour reaches the Alps Saturday.
A breakaway of three riders led most of the day, but as is customary in flat stages like these, they were reeled in by the rest of the pack.
As the peloton arrived on the outskirts of Montargis, a canal-laden town that dubs itself the Venice of the region, Team HTC-Columbia fought their way to the front.
In the last 100 meters, Cavendish pushed past rivals, including Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, for the win.
His teammates were thrilled after the race.
“He missed the chance yesterday and I’m just happy the monkey’s off his back,” Australian Mark Renshaw told the Monitor and other reporters at the finish line.
But perhaps the most elated member of Cavendish’s team wasn’t a racer, at least not anymore.
German Erik Zabel, a former sprint star who won 12 stages of the Tour de France in his career, has been working with Cavendish and HTC-Columbia since 2008.
When his protégé crossed the line victorious, Zabel ran out of the viewing area and stood on the road with his arms up in celebration.
Moments later Cavendish rolled towards him, gasping for air, and the two men embraced.
Overall standings after Stage 5:
- 1. Fabian Cancellara/Saxo Bank
- 2. Geraint Thomas/Sky
- 3. Cadel Evans/BMC
- 4. Ryder Hesjedal/Garmin
- 5. Sylvain Chavanel/Quick Step
- 6. Andy Schleck/Saxo
- 7. Thor Hushovd/Cervelo
- 8. Alexandre Vinokourov/Astana
- 9. Alberto Contador/Astana
- 10. Jurgen van den Broeck