EPERNAY // Today is one of the last chances Mark Cavendish will have to win a stage for nearly a week. Despite yesterday's triumph, Cavendish's dream of winning the points competition's green jersey has taken a hit after just five days of racing. This time last year the self-proclaimed "fastest man on two wheels" was on his way to winning six stages from sprints, adding to the four he won in 2008. But thanks to some tactically astute riding from his rivals, an apparent lack of confidence and the fact he does not have the same sprint "train" as last year, Cavendish has lost his way on this Tour with only the one stage victory.
The 227.5km Stage 6 from Montargis to Gueugnon today is not guaranteed to end in a bunch sprint. A day ahead of the first of three stages in the Alps, the yellow jersey contenders are likely to be wary of who goes off in a breakaway, although it is a near certainty that breaks will eventually form. With two small climbs before the halfway mark, then two others prior to the finish, breakaways have a chance of going all the way.
Vincent Lavenu, the AG2R manager, believes that for any breakaway to resist the power of the sprinters' teams in the peloton, it has to be a team effort. "Breakaways are a possibility [today], but there's no point in joining one if there's only four or five guys," he said before the start of Stage 5. "There has to be eight or nine guys in it. That's the only chance of it going all the way. Plus, the small climb near the finish shouldn't be a problem for most of the sprinters."
After two days in the Alps this weekend, the next opportunities for the sprinters will be July 15. Alberto Contador, the reigning champion, caused a minor shock yesterday when he paid a visit to the RadioShack team bus of arch-rival Lance Armstrong. Contador endured a tense cohabitation with Armstrong when the pair raced the 2009 Tour together before going their separate ways after Contador's triumph.
The Spaniard showed he held no grudges from that episode when he offered a pair of luxury watches to Armstrong and the RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel. Unluckily for Contador, Armstrong had already left the team bus to fulfil obligations of signing the race start sheet. * AFP