When Mark Cavendish crashed out of the Tour on the opening day in Harrogate last year, some wondered if it marked the end of his reign as the fastest sprinter in cycling, not least because the heir apparent, Marcel Kittel, claimed stage honours and the first yellow jersey of the race. He then added three more wins for good measure.
Not for the first time, however, Cavendish has responded with defiance to the notion that his powers might be on the wane. A blistering start to his 2015 season has yielded 13 wins, a haul that would perhaps have been even greater had the 30-year-old’s classics campaign not been hindered by illness. Only once before, in 2009, has he arrived at the Tour with more victories under his belt, while his Etixx-QuickStep lead-out train has run more smoothly than in years past.
Cavendish will be aware, of course, that the depth of opposition in the Tour’s bunch finishes will be greater than anything he has faced so far this season: like boxers, the best sprinters have the tendency to avoid direct confrontation with their rivals early in the year.
Even so, Cavendish’s head-to-head record against the top sprinters in their rare encounters to date reinforces the feeling that he will be the man to beat again in July. He got the better of former team-mate André Greipel at the Tour of Turkey, defeated Alexander Kristoff at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and beat three-time green jersey Peter Sagan on four occasions at the recent Tour of California. Kittel, meanwhile, will not be at the Tour at all. Laid low by illness all spring, his Giant-Alpecin team announced on Thursday that he would not be taking part.
Despite the relative lack of sprint opportunities on the route, Cavendish will expect to add to his running total of 25 Tour stage victories. If he can do so, then the new scoring system in the points classification, weighted to favour stage winners, could help him regain the green jersey he last won in 2011. “I know how to prepare for the Tour and I’m happy with where I am at the moment,” he said recently.Reuse content