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SCHOTE, Belgium (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) was in a chirpy mood inside the press tent Wednesday despite losing a photo-finish sprint to arch-rival Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step) at Scheldeprijs.
Why? The Manxster seems genuinely excited about racing what will be only his second Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. A close call at Scheldeprijs sets him up for Sunday’s cobblestone adventure across the punishing pavé of northern France.
“I’ve always wanted to do Roubaix. I’ve done it once already,” Cavendish told reporters in Schote. “The problem is I get paid a lot of money on the teams I’m in, so they want me to do good in the Giro, Tour of California, the Tour de France. They don’t want me risking Roubaix.”
Dimension Data gave Cavendish the green light to race, and he will jump into the challenge of Roubaix on Sunday with gusto. Despite his relatively light build, at least compared to the big cobble-bashers such as Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, Cavendish wants to see how he can do over the stones. With the right scenario, Cavendish knows if he could fight into the front group coming into the velodrome, he would have a chance at winning cycling’s most grueling monument. By his own admission, Cavendish is an outsider Sunday, but Roubaix is a race where strange things can happen.
“I don’t want to finish my career without having really tried it,” Cavendish said. “I don’t think I can win Roubaix, but there aren’t many races that I can do a job and pay back the guys who are working for me. Edvald [Boasson Hagen] is doing well, and I’d like to ride for him.”
How far Cavendish can go on the cobbles remains to be seen. He started Roubaix once, in 2011, but did not finish.
Cavendish made his mark as a bunch sprinter, and has raced 11 of cycling’s five “monuments” in his career. Eight of them were at Milano-Sanremo, which he won in his debut appearance in 2009. He also raced Paris-Roubaix in 2011, and twice started the Tour of Flanders, with a DNF in 2010, and 110th in 2011.
“He’s there to learn,” Dimension Data sport director Rolf Aldag said of Cavendish’s Roubaix start. “He’s 30, so if you want to do something in Roubaix, it’s unlikely you’ll do it your first time. If it goes well, he can put effort into it, and make it part of his planning.”
This season, Cavendish is shaking up his schedule, and is trying to earn a slot on the British Olympic track team to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in August.
Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs is his first race since Milano-Sanremo. Looking to hit form later this summer, Cavendish admitted he wasn’t in top shape coming into the mid-week sprinters’ showdown.
“I haven’t raced since Sanremo, and I need a good block of racing to be good. I am going in with 70 percent, and I am chasing my tail a little bit this year on form,” he said. “I did a good job, the team did a good job, just in the end, Marcel was that little bit faster.”
When pressed again about why Kittel beat him, Cavendish replied, “One guy was seven inches and 20 kilos more than me; I think that made the difference.”