Tour de France

Cavendish saving ammunition for weekend gunfight

World champ is on bottle duty this week as more sprint chances loom

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LA TOUSSUIRE, France (VN) — With the GC battle in the Alps, it is easy to forget about world champion Mark Cavendish. Sky’s British winner of 21 Tour stages has the most stages wins of any current rider and is pushing for more.

Cavendish’s problem is that his team is winning the Tour. Bradley Wiggins sits comfortably in first overall and their teammate Chris Froome holds second. The team, rightfully so, is putting all of its strength behind them as it made clear in yesterday’s finish to La Toussuire.

“It’s obviously going to be difficult, a challenge for someone who’s usually the center of a team, but he’s been an ideal teammate; he’s working hard, doing everything he can. Credit to him, credit to the [worlds] jersey,” team Sky’s general manager, David Brailsford told VeloNews. “Just hope that when his opportunity comes later, in the next few days, that we can support him to sprint to some victories for himself.”

The 2012 Tour features as many as four more sprint stages. Brailsford did allow Cavendish one dedicated teammate for the Tour, Bernhard Eisel. The two have been on water bottle and other basic duties since Saturday. The point came across clear in photographs this week that showed Cavendish looking fat as Santa Claus with around 15 water bottles squeezed in his rainbow jersey.

It’s no different for other teams’ helpers. Cavendish’s number one rival, André Greipel of Lotto-Belisol, is supporting Jurgen Van den Broeck through the Alps.

“In the mountains, they both have to survive,” Lotto’s general manger, Mark Sergeant told VeloNews. “At a certain point [Wednesday] when there were no photographers, they were both riding along, one after another, loaded down with bottles. It was a nice picture, but no one was there.

“They are both pretty much doing the same thing with André helping Jurgen. Then, at the right time, they sit up and ride in the grupetto.”

Cavendish rode on the coattails of Lotto’s train on stage 2 to Tournai, Belgium, and won the sprint. Greipel rebounded with two consecutive wins. Because of the close battles, Sergeant keeps a close eye on Cavendish.

“He looks pretty comfortable, he’s not bad,” Sergeant said. “Of course he has a great team, he can’t do anything else but to help those guys in these kind of races. He does what he can.”

Brailsford believes that Cavendish is in the form of his life, even better than last year when he won five stages and the green jersey. His star sprinter has purposely lost weight to be ready for Box Hill in the closing circuits of the Olympics road race later this month. For now, though, he has to support Sky’s GC ambitions.

“It must be quite frustrating for him in many respects, he’s probably been in the best shape here this year than he has been for many, many years,” Brailsford said. “He’s dealing with the mountain stages very, very well, he’s climbing better than he’s climbed before. Hopefully, he’s saving something for the days that suit him better.”

Saturday’s 13th stage is one of those days. The finish Saturday in Le Cap d’Agde will give Sky a good reading of how Cavendish survived the mountains. It is also an indicator of what’s possible for the Olympic road race July 28.