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Two-time Tour of Qatar overall winner Mark...

Worlds: Cavendish tops list of fast-finishing favorites

Ochowicz on worlds road race: "I'd go with Cavendish"

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Brit Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) is the favorite for the world championships next Sunday in Doha, insiders say.

Cavendish already won the relatively flat worlds in Copenhagen in 2011. According to several odds makers, he tops a list of five favorites: Cavendish, Slovakian Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), German André Greipel (Lotto – Soudal), German Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step), and Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

“You have at least 10 people who can win that sprint,” Jim Ochowicz, BMC Racing’s general manager told VeloNews. “I bet it’ll be a sprint of a big group. Of those in contention, I’d go with Cavendish.”

Cavendish sprinted ahead of Australian Matthew Goss and Greipel to win in Copenhagen. His British super team included stars Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Some critics thought Cavendish had lost it over the last few years, but in 2016, he bounced back with four stage wins in the Tour de France and a silver medal in the omnium in the Olympics. Also in his favor, he is a frequent flyer to the Tour of Qatar with nine wins. This year, he muscled his way ahead when the race split, won a stage, and took home the overall leader’s jersey. At the same time, much will depend on how Cavendish recovers from recent gastrointestinal problems that forced him to take a six-day break.

This year’s worlds course includes an out-and-back stretch of 150 kilometers. Assuming the UCI does not cut that due to extreme heat, the wind could rip the peloton into bits early on. The race ends with seven 15.2-kilometer maze-like circuits on the Pearl Island.

“Worlds is a different race than any other race they do all year, even than the Olympics, where the teams were small,” added Ochowicz. “You can some teams of nine and some of two riders. It’s not so hard for riders to control the race if they have eight or so riders.

“Cavendish has a full team, plus the interest of three or four other countries to do the same thing. That just multiplies the odds of the race being held together.”

The odds are in Cavendish’s favor, say several betting websites including Bet365. He is going off at 400 to win, Sagan 450, Greipel 450, Kittel 550, and Kristoff 1200.

Defending champion Peter Sagan could at first seem like a risky bet given his long season. Since winning worlds in Richmond, he has not slowed down. His spring included a Ronde van Vlaanderen victory and his summer three stage wins and the green jersey in the Tour de France. He recently said, “I’m tired, I did a lot in this season.” But he is clearly at his best again with wins in the GP Québec, the European championships, and the Eneco Tour.

Germany will take a powerful team to plow through Qatar’s windswept countryside. Over the 250 kilometers, it will need to decide who it will support for the possible sprint. Officially, they are backing the more experienced Greipel and calling Kittel the “Edeljoker” or the “noble joker.”

Already, there are hints that the German team could split on the Greipel/Kittel divide. Kittel said, “First we have to all be in the first group and then we can think about roles.”

Kristoff has ticked off all the boxes and has a Norwegian team 100% behind him. His first win this season came in the Tour of Qatar’s second stage, the Doha Worlds test event. He did not go as well as hoped in the classics and Tour, but appears on track for his third season goal with wins in the Tour des Fjords.

“Kristoff has the best chances,” Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “You need to be more than a sprinter, before the sprint, you have to be able to handle yourself in the cross-winds. He is one of the strongest sprinters for that type of course.”