Blazin' Saddles

Cavendish keeps green dream five alive

Blazin' Saddles

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Tour organisers could well bring forward the Alpe d'Huez as early as stage five in next year's Tour de France and Mark Cavendish would still probably win it.

They could get a spectator wearing a red t-shirt to throw Tony Martin under a bus driven by a white dog - and still the German would dust himself off, organise an efficient lead-out train and then pass the baton on to his erstwhile Omega Pharma-Quick Step team-mates to finish off the job.

If Pierre Rolland is further up the road on the 15th hairpin bend, then fine - they'll just get Sylvain Chavanel on his bright orange bike to reel him in, spit him out, and then flick his elbow to allow Nikki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Gert Steegmans to have a bite of the Cav gateau.

As long as it's stage five, Cav will win.

"It's been a little bit frustrating," said Cav after finally opening up his Tour account. "But I don't usually win until the fifth stage anyway."

Cav isn't wrong: in three of the previous five years, Cavendish's first win, when not in stage two, has come in stage five. On two of those occasions, Cavendish has gone on to win five stages in total.

From Wednesday's showing, not much will stop Cavendish bagging another five. In fact, there are another five flat stages up for grabs - plus two more stages which have an outside chance of finishing with a bunch sprint - so Cavendish could even break his Tour record and nab six wins in 2013.

Suddenly things don't look so glum for Cavendish and his team.

When Cav crossed the line to secure his 24th career win on the Grande Boucle he performed a little jig, the kind of which you'd expect from someone like Peter Sagan (back in the day when the Slovak sensation was more Anquetil than Poulidor).

Cav's dance was a kind of Corsi-cancan to make up for the lost opportunities following that horror smash in Bastia.

That was a crash which had set the tempo of OPQS's early Tour, pretty much cheese-grating Martin's entire body, making him melt into unconsciousness twice before coming to, deciding hospital was for wimps, and getting back on his bike to ride around France in a clockwise motion, taking in some of its highest points for good measure.

Tuesday's team time trial showed OPQS are almost back to their world champion-status best - but they were outdone by Orica-GreenEdge by three-quarters of a second and a chesty Cav cough.

En route to Marseille over the final 30km, OPQS were back in team time trial mode as they hunted down the remnants of a Europcar-heavy break. Now we know just how ramshackle Europcar are at team time trials: there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Terpstra, Trentin and Steegmans all did their thing inside the final kilometre; it was left to Cavendish to simply embarrass his rivals. That he did - quite comprehensively.

Sagan will now be left to rue missed opportunities; he had a run with Cavendish out of the frame, but he still only leads the Manxman by 111 points to 76 in the fight for the green jersey. Game on.

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Cav flies past Sisters of the Consolation congregation (Reuters)

WILL YELLO GERRO PUT MONEY WHERE MOUTH IS?

Saddles heard a great stat on Wednesday: had Daryl Impey finished the stage nine places ahead of his GreenEdge team-mate Simon Gerrans, he would have become the first ever rider from the African continent to wear the Tour's fabled yellow jersey.

As it was, Impey finished two places ahead of Gerrans - meaning that tomorrow, if Saddles has calculated this right, he need only finish seven places ahead of the Australian to don the maillot jaune.

The reason for this is that the pair are tied for time so far, with Gerrans leading the race because of aggregate stage placings - that's to say, the same means by which he beat Alejandro Valverde in the 2012 Tour Down Under.

Well, here's the payoff.

Saddles is a big fan of Gerrans and Gerrans, if you listen to his interviews, is a big fan of his team. In fact, when GreenEdge won the TTT and he took the race lead he explained how happy he was for the whole team to win something together - because his individual win a day earlier in Calvi had really been a team effort.

So, what about it, Gerro? If you're all about spreading the love and remembering your team-mates, then how about letting Impey - the man who led you out to your stage win, after all - finish seven places ahead of you in Montpellier so that he (and by the same token, GreenEdge) can make a slice of history before Chris Froome?

HOT OR NOT

HOT: Europcar kept up their roll of getting a man in each break of the race. In fact, they did even better and got two in there. And with the experienced head of Yukiya Arashiro there to mentor Tour debutant Kevin Reza, it was a bit like seeing Mr Miyagi and Daniel-san reunited on two wheels.

But for all the brilliance of Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's creche, it can't be denied that Mark Cavendish is pretty hot right now. You see, he has a temperature and is suffering from bronchitis, but he still manages to round his opponents with consummate ease to take move within 10 wins of Eddy Merckx's all-time Tour stage victory record.

Finishing half a bike length behind Cavendish was his former Sky team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen, who managed to make some of the other more feted sprinters look rather ordinary - and without a lead-out train. Perhaps he knew Paul Kimmage was watching...

NOT: Nacer Bouhanni spent most of the day drafting behind the medical car off the back of the peloton. By the time the race reached the final straight, Bouhanni was one of the riders who went down hard in the pile-up inside the last few hundred meters. Some might say it was poetic justice that he finally actually had a reason to seek out the race doctor. Saddles will just say that the crash occurred about 40 riders back and didn't involve any of the peloton's top sprinters...

Andre Greipel seemed to be at fault for that big pile-up on stage one - and a broken derailleur stopped him from taking part as his compatriot Marcel Kittel won the opening day sprint. Greipel has been quite a force in the intermediate sprints, mopping up maximum points over his rivals on most occasions. But when it came to a serious rendez-vous between the best, Greipel was well and truly beaten into fourth. We'll be calling him Intermediate Andre soon.

No one has time for the spectators who run alongside the riders in a bid to get on TV - but if you do decide, as one man did before the summit of the third categorised climb, to take out a running mischief-maker with a clothesline to rival the Rugby Club de Gap, then perhaps it's best if you don't send your target sprawling into path of the riders. That almost happened on Wednesday - and Reza was so nearly taken out by one man's nifty hand-work.

STAGE 6: AIX-EN-PROVENCE - MONTPELLIER, 176.5KM

If this doesn't end in a bunch sprint win for Mark Cavendish then Saddles will wear Pierre Rolland's all-in-one polka dot jersey skin-suit for an entire week - while eating the kind of bad peaches that thwarted Greg LeMond during the 1986 Tour de France.

Hopefully it will be more interesting than stage five, which was described by a friend of Saddles rather beautifully as "boredom garnished with crashes". The crosswinds coming either off the sea or, in the guise of the famous Mistral, from the north, should spice things up a bit - at least until Cavendish makes it back-to-back wins in the student city where he won back in 2011.

PLAT DU JOUR

A French Eurosport colleague of Saddles comes from Montpellier and so she is the inspiration behind today's culinary offering. Marion suggests we start with some 'feuilletés à la brandade de morue' - a type of puff pastry dish with a special paste made from fresh salt cod and olive oil.

For our main course, Marion suggests 'Gardienne de Taurau' - a regional Boeuf Bourguignon-style dish with 'bull' stewed in a red wine sauce with laurel leaves, thyme, dried orange peel, salt, pepper, vinegar and onions.

Wash this down with a bottle of Languedoc Gres de Montpellier, a dry red wine, and finish up with a 'Fougasse d'Aigues-Mortes' - a fragrant fluffy brioche-influenced cake made with orange blossom and named after the nearby medieval walled town.

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