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Tour Down Under offers first test of Cavendish/Greipel sprinters’ battle

HTC-High Road’s Mark Cavendish declined to be drawn into a pre-race verbal battle with sprint rival Andre Greipel on Saturday as the two prepared for a historic duel in Australia this week.

Cycling fans will have an opportunity to see a long-awaited battle on Tuesday as the two are likely to contest the first of a possible six sprint finishes in this year’s Tour Down Under.

The Cavendish-Greipel rivalry has gained attention for the past two years, mainly because it has been played out off the bike, while both were riding for the same team.

Currently, Cavendish has the upper hand so far, having emerged from the 2010 Tour de France after taking his tally of stage wins to 15 from only four participations.

In recent years Greipel has had to get used to being left at home or sent to other races in which Cavendish was not competing.

What became an uncomfortable co-existence finally came to an end recently when Greipel announced he had had enough and signed for Omega-Pharma.

Now on separate ProTeam squads for the first time, the two sprinters are set to add some extra excitement to the Tour Down Under.

Greipel knows his performance this week could set the tone for the rest of the season.

“I just want to do my thing,” said Greipel, who is a two-time winner of the event, which begins on Tuesday following a pre-race criterium in inner city Adelaide on Sunday. “If I want to win races, I have to beat him as well.”

At a Saturday press conference, Cavendish was even reluctant to mention Greipel by name and joked it could be his first and last participation if he was asked one more question about his German rival.

“There’s some great bike riders here. Andre won this race in the past,” said Cavendish, who claimed that he has his sights on the sixth and final stage next Sunday.

“We’ve had a look at the finale of most of the stages, and most of them are pancake flat. But I’m not here for the general classification. I’m here for a stage win. Maybe stage six.”

Overall victory at the Tour Down Under has traditionally gone to the rider who takes an early grip on the race and puts his team to work to chase down any threats in the ensuing stages.

With six stages proper and only one which includes a real climb — on stage five — the race has usually been won by a sprinter.

With a host of top sprinters competing, including Robbie McEwen (RadioShack), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo), Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad), Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Francesco Chicchi (Quick Step) and Allan Davis (Astana), this year’s race is seen as being wide open.

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