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Cavendish could use a Tirreno win for Sanremo boost

Ahead of Milano-Sanremo, Mark Cavendish could use the boost to his confidence that comes with a Tirreno-Adriatico win, says his team

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CASCINA, Italy (VN) — Mark Cavendish could use a sprint win ahead of Milano-Sanremo next Sunday, according to his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.

“It’s not just Mark who’s trying to win a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico, the others teams are trying as well,” sport director Davide Bramati told VeloNews. “You know, it gives you a lot of morale. When you win a stage in Tirreno, it gives you more conviction for Milano-Sanremo.”

Cavendish and the Omega Pharma sprint train faded Thursday like the colors in Michelangelo’s paintings on display down the road in Florence. After winning the team time trial and putting Cavendish in the blue leader’s jersey, the Belgian squad led the peloton for most of the day. However, in the final, crucial moments in Cascina, Omega Pharma gave way to the other sprinters’ trains and Cavendish was slowed by the crash of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano).

Tinkoff-Saxo, Lampre-Merida, and drove the race home. Cavendish drifted deep in the pack and placed 17th. Alessandro Petacchi tried to help the former world champion, but it was too late.

The Belgian team proved itself Wednesday in the team time trial, winning the 18.5km test by 18 seconds over Orica-GreenEdge, and will likely rise again Friday or, if not, on Monday, the final sprint stage available for Cavendish ahead of Milano-Sanremo.

Cavendish won Sanremo in his first try, in 2009. He has returned every year, but has found it difficult to get over the La Mànie climb with enough energy left for the Cipressa and the Poggio climbs nearly 100km later.

This year, organizer RCS Sport tried to squeeze the sprinters out by adding the Pompeiana climb between the Cipressa and the Poggio. A landslide forced a re-route back down to the tradition seaside road. Pleasing the sprinters even further, RCS kept out La Mànie. Cavendish, who had turned his back on the new, climber-friendly Sanremo, reappeared as a favorite.

Three days ago, he said, “My condition is a little bit behind. I’m not in top form.” Because of the last-minute decision to race Milano-Sanremo, he needs Tirreno-Adriatico to get him race-ready.

“The biggest thing is to have a good week with nice weather, not like last year. With that, you are able to build up your strength for Sanremo,” Bramati added. “Mark needs to take from this week confidence for Sanremo. He’s got to put the sprint today behind and remember that he’s the best sprinter in the world.”

His 17th place Thursday in Tuscany underlines what Cavendish said in the pre-race press conference, however. He explained earlier this year in Argentina that he wanted to start the season a little bit slower and adjust his schedule as needed. At that point, Sanremo was still a course for attackers and climbers and not Cavendish.

Since the route change was confirmed, Cavendish started and pulled out of the hilly Strade Bianche semi-classic. The week-long Tirreno-Adriatico could be too late and too close to Sanremo to make the difference.

Omega Pharma refuses to count Cavendish out, however. Bramati said that he is the best sprinter in the world and can potentially take confidence from this week. The team’s other director at Tirreno-Adriatico, Brian Holm, recalled Cavendish’s long resume and said that a win was not even necessary ahead of “La Primavera.”

But what about 2009, when Cavendish delivered the win in Sanremo? Yes, he won the final-stage sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico, and had already taken two stages each at the Tours of Qatar and California. But Holm discounted the role a victory for his star could play when the peloton sets out for nearly 300km of racing on March 23.

“He didn’t win here last year and I still believe he could’ve won Milano-Sanremo,” Holm explained. “No one had faith in him, but he was still eighth [Cavendish was ninth, second in the field sprint].”

Holm smiled underneath his beard and added, “We are almost there. Not too many cappuccinos in the morning and then he’s fit for Sanremo.”