Mark Cavendish pulled out of the Tour de France during the rest day on Tuesday, returning to the UK in order to save his strength for his next challenge, the omnium and possibly the team pursuit at the Rio Olympic Games.
Cavendish had won four stages in the 2016 Tour, taking his overall tally to 30, but with four tough Alpine stages to come before the Tour finishes on the Champs‑Élysées on Sunday, he decided to cut his race short.
“After an extremely enjoyable and successful couple of weeks at The Tour de France with Team Dimension Data, it is with great sadness that I took the decision today to leave the race,” Cavendish said in a statement. “After the heat and intensity of the previous stages, we analysed my fatigue levels and decided I’m at a point that would have a detrimental effect on my other big goal for the year, the Olympic Games. To leave a race and organisation that I hold so much respect for and a team that I have such a special bond with, has not been an easy decision at all. I want to say thank you to them, along with all the fans for their support and encouragement, today and over the past 16 stages. I wish Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka and all the other competitors luck in the final few days into Paris, a special place that I will definitely miss the emotions of this year.”
The Manxman had been enjoying his best Tour de France for several years, taking stages at Utah Beach, Angers, Montauban and Villars-les-Dombes, although he had struggled in the mountains, notably on the stage out of Andorra over the Col d’Envalira. The victory on the opening day in Normandy ensured that he wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, albeit for one day, and he then spent several stages in the green jersey of points leader while conceding that the title was highly likely to go to Peter Sagan.
Cavendish had said as recently as Saturday’s stage to Villars-les-Dombes that he would do his utmost to continue all the way to Paris, while reiterating that that would depend on how much he had left in the tank, bearing in mind that in 2015 the final phase in the Alps had left him in bed for several days.
Sources at British Cycling had indicated to the Guardian in mid-June that a withdrawal on the Tour’s second rest day would be the preferred option as that would give Cavendish six clear-cut sprint opportunities, while also allowing him time to recuperate before Rio.
“I aim to go to Paris but I will see what happens,” Cavendish said before the Tour started. “Last year the final four days were so hard that I was in bed for four days afterwards. I can’t afford that before an Olympic Games so I will take it as it comes. It was never the plan to stop early.”
Cavendish was among the elite group of 33 who fought out the stage finish on Monday in Berne; given the toughness of the finale, that is an indication of his effervescent form.
He completed the 2012 Tour before starting the road race in London but withdrew from the Tour early in 2008 in order to concentrate on the Madison relay race in Beijing, where he and Bradley Wiggins failed to win a medal.
That experience eight years ago appeared to have left Cavendish dubious over the virtues of pulling out early, but in truth, with a career tally of 30 stage wins and second only to the legendary Eddy Merckx on 34, he has little more to prove between Berne and Paris.
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