LE HAVRE, France (VN) — Mark Cavendish won 25 Tour de France stages in his career, once claiming six in a single year, plus the green jersey in another. Even though he missed out twice so far this year in the sprints, his Etixx-Quick-Step team explained that he is still the same, strong cyclist.
Since leaving HTC-Highroad in 2011, however, Cavendish has not been the same Tour-winning machine. In 2012, Sky sent a team heavy in helpers for Bradley Wiggins and left Cavendish without much of a train, but he still managed three wins. In 2013, he won his last two of 25.
A crash forced him to abandon after stage 1 with a shoulder injury in 2014. At the same time, other sprinters have emerged and become just as fast or faster. German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) won four stages in both 2013 and 2014, but could not start this year. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) claimed his eighth career win yesterday, shutting out Cavendish, who placed third.
“His watts are fine, I think, I don’t how much the others produce, but he’s absolutely there as he was before,” Rolf Aldag, Etixx’s sport and development manager told VeloNews.
“He’s there,” Aldag added, referring to Cavendish’s fitness level compared to when he was winning five or six stages in the Tour. “We’ve seen him the week before in the British championships, that he’s good and strong.”
Cavendish raced the Tour for the first time in 2007, but his breakthrough came the next year, when he won four stages, at the age of 23.
“We all lose that freedom of the unknown when you don’t know what will happen in the Tour,” added Aldag.
“He knows everything now. He won 25 stages, everyone expects him to win here, so of course there’s more pressure on. When you are 23, an upcoming superstar, then it’s ‘Who cares?'”
He became the sprint king in cycling. Besides winning the most stages in the Tour, behind only Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx, he won the world championship title, Milano-Sanremo, Scheldeprijs (three times), Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne (two times), 15 Giro d’Italia stages, and three stages in the Vuelta a España.
With Etixx, he has a proper lead-out train in Mark Renshaw, Matteo Trentin, Tony Martin, Zdenek Stybar, and Michal Kwiatkowski. The confidence, though, could be waning slightly after not getting an early win in his first two chances. To make matters worse, Martin abandoned Thursday with a broken collarbone.
“We still look back to stage 2, things should have been easier if he won that one. Then he wouldn’t have the gun to his head saying, ‘Well everyone expects me to win.’ That would have made things easier,” said Aldag.
“For all of us, it would’ve been great if he would’ve won that stage because then you are relaxed.”
Renshaw dropped off Cavendish early in Zélande on Sunday. Cavendish tried, but Greipel, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) all zipped by. Making matters worse, he could not take the bonus seconds to help teammate Martin take the yellow jersey. Martin took the yellow jersey Tuesday in Cambrai.
Cavendish only has two or possibly three chances left in the Tour, starting with Friday’s stage 7 and ending with the final day in Paris on July 26. Aldag believes that if Cavendish has a straight shot at the line, he will win at least once.
“The sprints haven’t been about speed at all so far — it’s slightly uphill, it’s not super-fast, it’s headwind and this and that,” Aldag said.
“Obviously, Cavendish doesn’t profit that much from his body shape in those sprints, but if the sprint is 70 kilometers an hour, that drag that André [Greipel] creates is probably two-thirds bigger than the drag that Cavendish creates. Then that’s about pure power.”
Cavendish’s power will be on test Friday, one of a few chances left for him to save his Tour de France.