UTRECHT, Netherlands (AFP) — Mark Cavendish reluctantly admitted on Friday that the absence of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) improves his chances of winning stages at the Tour de France this year.
The 30-year-old Manxman has won 25 Tour stages but was upstaged by new sprint king Kittel over the last two years.
While the burly German won four stages in each of the last two Tours, Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) claimed just two in 2013 before crashing out of last year’s race in the first stage.
Kittel will miss this year’s Grande Boucle after failing to find race form in time after a season disrupted by illness, and Cavendish was forced to admit that the German’s absence boosts his own chances.
“Sure, but of the near-200 riders that will be starting on the start line, I think if you take any of them away it increases my chances of winning,” he said.
Asked if he would miss the challenge Kittel would undoubtedly have posed, Cavendish said he was more concerned about his own presence at the Tour than anyone else’s.
“To be fair, I miss racing more. I crashed out of the first stage in last year’s Tour de France in Harrogate, and I missed the race a lot,” he said.
“We’ve looked at trying to come to the Tour de France in the same form as I was in last year and hopefully get back to winning ways.”
Cavendish has had a good season so far, winning one stage at the Tour de San Luis, two at the Dubai Tour, three at the Tour of Turkey, and four at the Amgen Tour of California.
He also claimed overall victory in Dubai and won the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne one-day semi-classic race in March.
With 25 Tour de France stage wins, he needs three more to equal five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault’s mark of 28, second on the all-time list behind another five-time overall winner, Eddy Merckx, who won 34.
But Cavendish reacted irritably when asked about his chances of matching Hinault’s mark.
“I don’t come into the Tour de France trying to beat Bernard Hinault to be fair,” he said.
“I’ve won a range of different numbers of wins in most Tours de France I’ve competed in, and I’d like to add more than one stage to that.
“But one stage of the Tour de France in a career makes a rider’s career, let alone one per year.”