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Cobbles 101: Cavendish returns to Roubaix in surprise start

Mark Cavendish has only raced Paris-Roubaix once and has never finished the race, but he'll be at the start line next week

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GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Mark Cavendish will make a surprise start in next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix. Dimension Data sport director Rolf Aldag confirmed to VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown that the British sprinter will race the harrowing cobblestone classic for only the second time of his career.

“He always had ambitions to do a good Roubaix,” Aldag told Cycling Weekly. “You have to start somewhere. He really loves it. It’s another milestone in the building process, with Scheldeprijs [April 6].”

Why? Aldag said Cavendish will ride in a support role for team captain Edvald Boasson Hagen, but said the compact sprinter could develop into a Roubaix-type rider later in his career. Other confirmed starters for Dimension Data include Tyler Farrar and Bernhard Eisel.

Aldag said, despite Cavendish’s relatively slight build compared to the larger and brawnier cobble-bashers, that the British sprinter could do well over Roubaix.

“It suits him,” Aldag continued. “He’s good in prologue. He can go short distances hard and fast, like in a cobble section. And he can position himself, and that’s needed before each cobble section. He’s small, but he’s not a climber’s weight, and won’t bounce around the cobbles. And he’s powerful.”

The move comes somewhat of a surprise for Cavendish, who has raced Roubaix only once previously, in 2011, when he did not finish. While racing three seasons for classics-heavy Etixx – Quick-Step, he never had the chance to race Roubaix because of the team’s obsession with the French race. Dimension Data offers Cavendish a chance to try new things.

This year, Cavendish is shaking up his season, and is trying to earn a slot on the British Olympic team to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in August.

Cavendish made his mark as a bunch sprinter, and has raced only 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 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), with a DNF in 2010, and 110th in 2011.

“He’s there to learn,” 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.”

Before Roubaix, Cavendish will face off against the sprinters at Scheldeprijs on April 6.