It’s been a rough ride in 2018 for sprinter ace Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data). A string of injuries and crashes has limited Cavendish’s usually prolific harvest to just one lone victory this season.
The “Manx Missile” is hoping to put a string of bad luck in the rearview mirror just in time for the Tour de France. Cavendish will be honing his form in the five-day Tour of Slovenia from June 13-17 as part of his final tuneup before the Tour’s July 7 start.
“Slovenia is obviously a key race for us, as it is part of Mark’s buildup for the Tour,” said Dimension Data sport director Roger Hammond. “That is what will be doing in Slovenia, building toward the Tour by going through our race processes and finding that rhythm.”
Cavendish might also start the five-day Adriatica Ionica race, a new event just over the border in northern Italy, set for June 20-25.
There should be at least two sprint opportunities in each stage race, providing an important test for Cavendish to confirm his condition and speed ahead of the Tour.
It’s been a bumpy road for the 33-year-old Cavendish since he broke his scapula and was forced to withdraw from last year’s Tour following a controversial crash with Peter Sagan in stage 4. Sagan was ejected from the Tour while Cavendish did not compete again until September and went winless for the remainder of the season.
Cavendish is motivated to return to the Tour in fighting form to remind everyone he’s the best sprinter of his generation.
This year opened on a promising note, with a stage win at the Dubai Tour in his season debut in February. Things have since gone off the rails since. He suffered a concussion at the Abu Dhabi Tour when a race organization car unexpectedly braked during the rollout in the neutral zone. Cavendish later crashed in a team time trial stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and was time-cut despite finishing with heavy lacerations and a broken rib in March. Later that month, he struck a traffic divider during Milano-Sanremo and broke another rib.
In May, Cavendish returned to competition at the Tour of Yorkshire and the Amgen Tour of California, where he took 10th in the first stage.
“After such a crash like at Milano-Sanremo, it is not easy,” Cavendish said in May. “I’m not here to mill around. You only get better by trying to get involved.”
Cavendish continued training despite his physical setbacks, posting photos on his Instagram account from recent efforts in Italy. His wife also gave birth to the couple’s third child in late May.
All will be forgotten if Cavendish returns to form in time to win at least a stage during the Tour.
Cavendish, however, will have his work cut out for him to regain his title as the Tour’s fast man. Rivals such as Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Tour rookie Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) are favorites to dominate the sprints. Sagan and riders like Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) will also have their chances during a very challenging opening nine days of this year’s Tour.
Cavendish hasn’t won a Tour stage since 2016, when he surged back into prominence with four stage victories before dropping out early to prepare for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The hype next month will be Cavendish’s quest to equal Eddy Merckx’s stage win record. Cavendish is No. 2 on the list with 30 wins, while Merckx has the all-time mark at 34. Cavendish eclipsed Bernard Hinault’s haul of 28 Tour stage wins in 2016.
All of Cavendish’s stage victories have come in bunch sprint finales. Eighteen of Merckx’s victories came in bunch sprints, a number that confirms the Belgian’s versatility and his ability to win on all terrain — against the clock, in breakaways, in the mountains, and in bunch sprints.
Cavendish is already the Tour’s sprint king by a comfortable margin when it comes to winning mass gallop finales. André Darrigade held the previous mark with 22 sprint victories during his career, while André Leducq, who also won two overall Tour titles, won a total of 25 career stages.
Cavendish towers above his contemporary sprint rivals when it comes to Tour success. German aces Kittel and André Greipel boast 14 and 11 wins, respectively, while three-time world champion Sagan owns eight stage wins.
No one should count out Cavendish when it comes to the Tour. This week’s racing in Slovenia should reveal how far along he is in his preparation for July.