Cycling: Cavendish takes back seat in gruelling opener

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Mark Cavendish's 2010 race season started yesterday with maximum exposure to road cycling's toughest, least glamorous side – a four-hour ride through a freezing downpour in the hilly stage one of the Tour of Andalusia.

At the tiny mountain-top finish of La Guardia de Jaen, Cavendish finished 86th, over eight minutes down on the winner Sergio Pardilla. On a stage where Cavendish, as a sprinter, had zero possibilities of victory, the HTC-Columbia leader switched to team helper and spent much of the day weaving between the team car and the pack, bringing up rain jackets and water for his team-mates.

Cavendish then completed the stage far behind the leaders, shivering from the ice-cold rain and horizontal winds. The rest of the field had it equally tough. When Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins crossed the line his fingers were so cold he had to get a team assistant to do up his jacket. His team-mate Steve Cummings, the best British finisher at 20th, was barely able to speak.