Tour de France 2014: Mark Cavendish relaxed and ready to pop round to mum’s in yellow jersey...

Sprinter ready to renew his rivalry with Germany’s Marcel Kittel

leeds

Barring a Tour de France start in his native Isle of Man, Mark Cavendish’s bid to regain his crown as the fastest sprinter in the world could hardly be on more friendly territory on Saturday, the opening stage finishing in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate.

As if there was not enough at stake with a British start to the Tour, Cavendish’s 26th Tour stage win would also net him his first ever yellow jersey and also go a long way to re-establish his position at the pinnacle of world-class sprinting, which he lost, in last year’s Tour at least, to Germany’s Marcel Kittel.

Today, at a press conference, Cavendish seemed remarkably at ease. Only a later tweet, in which he claimed to have had to answer the same question in six different ways, perhaps indicated he is feeling a little irritable as Saturday and the stage at the centre of his season loom ever larger.

“It’s incredible, for the second time in my career, I’ve got a chance to race the Tour de France here in the United Kingdom,” Cavendish said, “though of course we’d like to be successful throughout the whole three weeks.

“The support for the Tour here is absolutely tremendous, people don’t realise just how big this is going to be.”

Cavendish sidestepped the question about his rivalry with Kittel by saying that his team’s aim is “to win multiple stages again”. Last year Cavendish took two Tour stage wins – a hugely impressive achievement for most riders, and only disappointing in comparison to the Briton’s own high levels of success, with a minimum of four  stages each year since 2008.

Probably the biggest difference for him in the Tour build-up has been not taking part in the Giro d’Italia for the first time since 2010. He claimed the change has worked, despite being ill at last week’s National Championships.

“I feel in good condition for this Tour, I came through the Tour de Suisse [his last build-up race] fine, although a lot of guys got sick.”

There is also, pre-Tour, a lot for Cavendish to be satisfied about this year. “I’ve got nine wins this season, whilst the team has got close to 50,” he pointed out.

If Cavendish’s nonchalance surprised in some quarters, in his Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team they were convinced his  level of ambition to keep on winning – even after 118  professional victories – remains as strong as ever.

“Is Cav hungry to win? Oh yes,” Wilfried Peeters, his sports director told The Independent, before warning that Saturday’s sprint will be anything but straightforward.

“It’s going to be a hard day, a very complicated last five kilometres, the guy with the most power as well as the most speed will win. Not like last year.”

Peeters is very confident about his rider’s chances, above all in terms of how he has timed his rise to Tour form. “Last year he was in great shape at the end of May when he finished the Giro,” he said. “This time, he’s been going well through the Tour de Suisse and up to now. He’s ready.”

The other big change from 2013 is that Cavendish’s back-up team is much stronger. Italian Alessandro Petacchi and Australian Mark Renshaw were sitting at opposite ends of the Leeds press conference table, but as two of the most talented lead-out men in the business they will be working closely together on Saturday to guide Cavendish into position for the bunch sprint.

Their signing for Omega Pharma-Quick-Step last winter will arguably give Cavendish a degree of support that he has never enjoyed before. But ultimately, as ever, on Saturday in Harrogate it will be up to the Briton himself to deliver the goods.

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