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Tour de France

Cavendish faces ‘enormous pressure’ to win Tour stage

Mark Cavendish is running out of opportunities for victory at the Tour as this year's pure sprint stages are few and far between.

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AMIENS, France (VN) — Mark Cavendish is in a race against time in the Tour de France, with very few chances left for him to win a stage.

Team Etixx-Quick-Step’s Cavendish lost his second opportunity Wednesday in the Northern French town of Amiens, where André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) stormed by for the win and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) took second place. Cavendish, winner of 25 stages in his career, had to settle for third.

With two, possibly three, sprint opportunities left in the 2015 Tour, Cavendish faces “enormous pressure,” said lead-out man, Mark Renshaw under the team bus awning when asked about the growing feeling after missing two sprint opportunities.

“This is the highest-level team. We come here to win stages, not just a stage. Obviously, we’re very disappointed, but there are more chances. But as I said, the level is high. It is Tour de France.”

The Tour offers precious few more chances for pure sprinters. Cavendish said that Thursday’s finish to Le Havre is not suited to riders like him and that Friday, finishing in Fougères, would be the next opportunity.

Afterward, the pure sprinters like Cavendish and Greipel will have nothing to do but wait. The Tour transfers south for the mountains on Monday. From the Pyrénées east to the Alps, only one day sticks out. Stage 15 to Valence ends on flat roads but with the big mountains in the first half of the day, an escape is favored. That leaves only the stage to Paris, the last stage, for Cavendish.

Cavendish bagged 25 wins in his career, setting the bar high in 2009 with six wins in one edition. In 2013, he slipped to only two and in 2014, he crashed and pulled out on day one.

He was asked if it is easier to win if you already have an early win in the Tour, as is the case with Greipel’s win on stage 2 and again Wednesday in stage 5.

“Not especially,” he explained. “We have 21 days in the Tour, there’s a couple less sprint opportunities [this year], but there’s still a few more stages left.

“My confidence? It’s good. I’ve gone good all week. I’m sure we’ll get wins. Everyone was on a good buzz after Tony got the yellow.”

Cavendish helped position Tony Martin to attack, win the stage and take the yellow jersey in Tuesday’s cobbled stage to Cambrai. Sport director, Brian Holm explained that that work yesterday could have held Cavendish back today. Cavendish was unsure if that was the case.

“We’ll take a look back to see if there was anything [wrong],” he added. “I actually did a good sprint, but I was just beaten by two other guys.”

He could not complain about his lead-up to the Tour. Besides falling sick after a trip to South Africa, he has had one of his best early seasons with 13 wins.

Cavendish is the best sprinter of his generation with 25 wins and victories in races like Milano-Sanremo, Gent-Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs, and the world championships. With such star status, followers expect Cavendish to pull off at least one stage victory in the Tour.

Contract talks are also brewing in the background. General Manager Patrick Lefevere is holding out to negotiate a renewal. Cavendish, to ensure his top contract or to earn a new one with another team, could use not just one, but many wins.

“Pressure on Cav? It’s part of life as a professional cyclist, if you are a superstar. That’s life,” Holm said.

“It’s always more fun if you’ve won three stages by now but the pressure? He can deal with it. I hope so. That’s his job. That’s what he’s paid for.”