BERN, Switzerland (VN) — Will Mark Cavendish ride to Paris, or pull out of the Tour de France early to prepare for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games?
The Dimension Data sprinter has won four stages so far in this Tour, but with four brutal stages across the Alps before the final sprint down the Champs–Élysées on Sunday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cavendish take an early exit.
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“We will not discuss that in the media,” sport director Rolf Aldag said after Monday’s stage. “It’s something we’ll discuss inside the team bus. I have been asked that question by every journalist since the Tour started!”
Cavendish was also non-committal. The lure of winning on the Champs-Élysées could prove tempting, because Cavendish hasn’t won there since 2012.
“There’s a rest day, and four days before Paris, so I may as well try,” Cavendish said. “I’ve said I’m not going to put myself over the edge, so if I get sick or fall off, I won’t. But I am in good shape, the team’s in good morale, so I’ll carry on as long as I can.”
It’s a balancing act between risking a crash or falling ill in the Alps, but with a chance to win one of the most prestigious sprints in cycling, or pull out early in order to have a smooth ride into Rio, where he will race in the omnium and be the team pursuit’s fifth man.
Now 31, Cavendish has never won an Olympic medal, and Rio represents perhaps his last shot at gold, but even that’s a stretch in the tricky, six-event omnium race.
Cavendish’s Olympic push was part of the deal when he signed with Dimension Data, so there won’t be any pressure from the team to ride to Paris. And since he’s already won four stages, far more than anyone expected, Cavendish could easily leave the Tour satisfied.
And with his stage victory Monday, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) all but secures the green points jersey. Sagan now leads Cavendish, 405-291.
Cavendish typically sucks it up, and makes it through the mountains when he can. In his first Tour in 2007, he made a planned early exit. In 2008, he left in stage 15, also part of a planned early exit to prepare for the Beijing Olympic Games.
He finished the next five straight Tours, winning on the Champs-Élysées from 2009 to 2012. In 2013, Marcel Kittel blew past him in the final sprint, marking what some considered the beginning of the end of the Cavendish era.
In 2014, Cavendish crashed in stage 1, and did not start the next day. Last year, he won one stage, and could only manage sixth on the Champs. Now he’s back in top form, Cavendish could be tempted to suffer through the Alps and reclaim his crown on the Champs as the fastest man in the peloton.