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Ambitious approach to 2016 pays off for Cavendish

Cavendish looks for one more victory in Abu Dhabi at the end of a resurgent 2016 road season

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JABEL HAFEET, U.A.E. (VN) — Mark Cavendish ends his road season Sunday in the last stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour, whose second stage he won Friday in a sprint finish. He is due to compete in the London and Ghent Six Day track races, but Sunday is his prime chance to end a remarkable road campaign as a winner.

Cavendish (Dimension Data) has been a constant point of interest for his entire season, bookended by the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong, Australia in February and his last and 70th race day in the U.A.E — the 143km fourth stage in Abu Dhabi on the Yas Marina motor racing circuit that is tailored for a bunch sprint finish.

Tackling a challenging program on the road and track, Cavendish has enjoyed plenty of success this year as shown by his major achievements. They include a stage win and overall victory in the Tour of Qatar, a gold medal in the madison at the track world championships with Bradley Wiggins, four stage wins and one day in yellow jersey in the Tour de France to take his tally of career stage wins to 30 (four shy of Eddy Merckx’s record), a silver medal in the omnium at the Rio Olympics, and a silver in the worlds road race in Doha.

Sure, Cavendish wanted those silvers to be gold, and understandably so. But for those of us who have followed Cavendish’s assault on season 2016, his ability to have achieved what he has — especially under the spotlight of so much speculation — has still been extraordinary. Why? Before Saturday’s 150km third stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour from Al Ayn to Jebel Hafeet in which Cavendish lost the red leader’s jersey on the 11km climb to the finish line, VeloNews asked several people for their view on what has been so special about him.

Koen de Kort (Giant – Alpecin):

“It looked like it definitely worked out for him,” said de Kort of Cavendish’s season program.

“It was pretty ambitious, but it seems like it really helped him to take that step up again.

“He had a few more difficult years after having been the number one sprinter for many years where he was that little bit behind I felt. But, yeah … he has definitely made that step back up again. Maybe it had something to do with the track, doing that specific training brought him to be the best sprinter and now he is back doing the same thing. I assume it was the specific training – that track speed and sprint training would have helped him.”

As a lead out rider for sprinters like German John Degenkolb, de Kort also sees close up how well Cavendish sprints. “He is really aerodynamic in sprinting. He puts the nose on the front wheel and you can get away with a little less watts than what the big sprinters like Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel do.

“He also has a big acceleration. Marcel and Andre can keep up their watts for a real long time and almost accelerate through a sprint, whereas Cavendish is a real punchy sprinter.”

Brett Lancaster (Sky sports director):

“He took on a lot this year, and he is now ever-so-close to that Tour de France record for stage wins [Merckx’s 34]. That says it alone how good this guy is,” said Lancaster, a former team pursuit track rider on the Australian team before his own road career in which he was a strong time trialist and lead out rider for many sprinters.

“When Cavendish really wants to do something, mentally he is incredible. He is hungry to win every sprint … he gets angry if he doesn’t and points fingers at people. It’s a real typical pure sprinter heat of the moment thing that they do, then afterwards he will chill out.”

“I raced against him a lot, especially in the Cervélo days when we were going head to head with Thor Hushovd. One year in the Tour [2010], Cav got to stage 11 and hadn’t had a win and he was really angry, and thought everyone was against him and I spoke to him [before stage 12] and said, ‘Mate, you are good, a big champion. I don’t have a problem with you.’ That day, he won the stage. Then bang, bang, bang … he kept winning stage after stage.

Lancaster pointed to another standout trait as crucial to Cavendish’s success: “His memory of races and of roads. He would know every corner, every speed hump. He can remember any stage, any race, anywhere.”

Lancaster also believes Cavendish’s sprint has been strengthened by his track work. “For the speed sport of things, it does help … if you can mix it with endurance,” he said.

Laurenzo Lapage (Orica – BikeExchange sports director):

“Cavendish is a ‘champ.’ The last 10 years he has been one of the fastest sprinters in the world. A lot of times we say, ‘A lot of guys are coming [up],’ but he always fights back,” said Lapage.

“This year also, with the goals he made for himself … he got second there, [but he was] beaten by a super Sagan. He is a guy who wants to win, wants to see the line. He is a fighter.

“There may be three or four guys with the same speed, but not with the same spirit.”

Lapage, from Belgium where expectations on a local star rider can be career-threatening, is also as impressed with how Cavendish copes with so much attention and speculation.

“He showed already that he can live with the pressure. Otherwise you would not be so long at the top,” he said. “Also the track training for the sprinters is not bad for a sprinter.”

Orica – BikeExchange will lose Michael Matthews to Giant – Alpecin next year, but Lepage hopes the team’s two young sprinters Caleb Ewan and Magnus Cort can learn from Cavendish. “[It is] the way he goes to the sprint, the way he motivates his team,” Lapage said. “That is all something you have to learn in the race, and actually follow him a little.”

Lars Michaelsen (Tinkoff sports director):

“He set up a tough [season] program,” Michaelsen said. “And knowing Mark a little bit, he was demanding a lot of himself as well as his surroundings. But that is another story.

“Mark is a rider, and probably also a person, who is actually functioning best when he has some hard task in front of him and he is under pressure. He also has his way of dealing with pressure, but that’s the way he is. At the end of the day, he pulled it off pretty well I guess.”

Asked if he was surprised at all by Cavendish’s success, Michaelsen said: “I was surprised about the Tour because I saw him in Tour of Slovenia in the beginning of June and he was complaining about breathing problems and back problems and whatever. Okay, that happens, but I thought he had overcooked it already at that point. He came back strong.”

Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data rider):

“When you work with someone like Cav it’s pretty easy because he is so good he carries the team,” said Renshaw, Cavendish’s lead-out rider for the sprints who said his own season was disrupted with illness “at critical moments.”

But when pressed on Cavendish’s program, the Australian said: “It’s impressive how much he has hit all his targets, second [in the omnium] and second [in world road title] and just missed bits here and there. He was never totally off the mark which is pretty impressive.”