Cycling: Cavendish shows early form in Qatar

 

Al-Gharafa

Mark Cavendish fought off the aftermath of a fever to claim his first victory in the world champion's rainbow jersey for Team Sky here yesterday, fulfilling his promise to "hit the ground running" in a year where a crack at Britain's first Olympic gold of 2012 is beckoning.

The 26-year-old from the Isle of Man says he is still on the back foot after he all but failed to start the six-day Tour of Qatar because of a bug he picked up on his flight last weekend. However, he proved unstoppable in yesterday's drawn-out sprint that decided the Tour of Qatar's stage three, against rival and race leader Tom Boonen, comfortably outpacing the Belgian despite having to ride into a stiff headwind at the finish.

"I'm very happy to have won since I'm not at 100 per cent," Cavendish said. "But the lads worked hard for me, Bernie [Eisel] and [Juan Antonio] Flecha were with me and keeping me in position all the way to the finish. We'd planned to try to do something because I've been feeling better. After it split we decided we'd race as a team, see what happened and if it came down to a sprint – then great."

Not even being blocked in by a rider from the newly created Australian GreenEDGE team – which looks set to have a strong rivalry with Sky this season – in the final metres could stop Cavendish, who swung wide and moved on to Boonen's wheel as the Belgian began powering up.

"I waited and waited because it was a headwind so I had to leave it late" – so as not to risk running out of energy in the last metres – "and then came past him for the win."

Cavendish has not won a race so early in the calendar since 2009, when he took two stages in the Tour of Qatar in what was his most consistent season to date. He has repeatedly said that he wants to focus on more than "just" the Tour de France this year (London 2012 being the other main target) and yesterday was the ideal start, particularly after his illness.

Adding to the pleasure, of course, was wearing the rainbow bands of world champion, making this the first victory for a male Briton as holder of the title since the late Tom Simpson more than four decades ago. "It's very special, and it's great to get the season going and that first win under my belt," Cavendish said. "Hopefully now, I'll get on a roll."

Cycling all-time great Eddy Merckx, who helps organise the Tour of Qatar, told The Independent: "I'll never forget when I took my first ever victory in a world champion's jersey. It was a really great moment in my career, I won a stage of the race in Italy by nine minutes – and the race was over! Cavendish has done something very important today."

Now third overall at eight seconds on Boonen, with just three flat stages remaining, there is a strong possibility that Cavendish could take the race overall if he continues to recover so well.

The Briton was cagey about that afterwards but if Cavendish – who has now racked up 76 road wins in just over five years as a pro – succeeded in winning Qatar overall, a stage race victory would be a first even for cycling's most prolific winner of recent times. Meanwhile, more attempts at stage wins beckon – and one today would put the Briton into the lead.

Contador: The injustice is hard

Alberto Contador is considering appealing against the two-year ban he was handed by Court of Arbitration for Sport for failing a dope test during his victorious 2010 Tour de France campaign.

The Spaniard said yesterday he planned to return to competition when the retroactive ban ends in August. "My feeling of injustice is terrible," he said. "I have done everything possible to show that I am innocent."

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