“Just one stage win in the Tour de France puts your career in another dimension,” Arnaud Démare, the French sprinter said recently – and with 25 victories in cycling’s flagship race, Mark Cavendish’s status as the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour has long been set in stone.
The question Cavendish will be seeking to answer when he starts the Tour today is whether, after crashing out on the first stage last year, the Etixx-Quick-Step leader can regain the July form that from 2008 to 2013 has made him the race’s equal-third most prolific stage winner.
Last year’s crash in Harrogate and missing out on the chance to take the yellow jersey on home soil was recently described as “the biggest frustration of his career” by his team manager, Patrick Lefevere, but the omens for Cavendish in this year’s Tour are unnervingly good. He has 13 wins this season, two more than for the whole of last year, and he won silver in last week’s National Championships, despite being heavily outnumbered by Team Sky on a course in Lincoln which did him few favours.
Cavendish’s path to a Tour stage win this year, perhaps as soon as tomorrow on the completely flat run to Zélande, may be helped by the absence of one of his key rivals, Marcel Kittel. The German sprinter, who defeated Cavendish several times in the 2013 Tour, will not be starting because of the after-effects of a viral infection. On the downside, that will also mean one team fewer to form a working alliance with Cavendish’s to fight to keep the peloton together on the seven or eight possible sprint stages of this year’s race.
Kittel’s absence heightens the expectations that Cavendish will once more sweep all before him, but the Isle of Man rider himself preached caution yesterday. Asked if it was oversimplifying the issue to say the lack of Kittel improved the odds of his winning, Cavendish merely pointed out: “There’s nearly 200 riders that will be starting, if you take away any of them that increases my chances.
“I’ve been lucky with no injuries or anything. I’m super happy and I know I’ve done everything I can to prepare for this Tour de France.”
Cavendish was equally cagey about the number of stages he thought he could actually win, pointing out that he had won different numbers of stages in almost all his Tours so far and that “I’d like to add more than one stage to that”. But Mark Renshaw, Cavendish’s lead-out man who guides him into pole position for his sprint at the end of the stage, said that it would be feasible for him to win somewhere between three and five stages in this year’s Tour.
Cavendish was similarly guarded about his chances of wearing the yellow jersey, a challenge which has eluded him to date and which would complete his set of Grand Tour leads, after he headed the Vuelta a España in 2010 and Giro d’Italia in 2011. As Cavendish said, “Anything is possible”. But the next week, with time bonuses on offer for all the stages and a short first time trial, it looks more likely than for some time.Reuse content