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MILAN (VN) — Mark Cavendish dominated the Tour de France sprint stages over the last decade, racking up 26 wins. His new Dimension Data teammate Tyler Farrar says Cavendish still has it and is on track to win “at least a couple of stages” in the 2016 Tour.
Cavendish collected six stage wins alone in 2009 with team Columbia – HTC. He returned to win to five stages each in 2010 and 2011. With Sky in 2012, he won three times. With Etixx – Quick-Step over the last three years, he won just three times for various reasons.
“Does he still have it? Totally he does,” Farrar told VeloNews. “He is still pretty damn fast and he still wins a lot of races.”
Farrar spoke after he helped his new British teammate win the opening stage and overall title at the Tour of Qatar. It may seem like an odd pairing, since they were once rivals.
The 31-year-old from Washington scored his first big win in the 2009 Tirreno-Adriatico stage race ahead of Cavendish. He went on to win stages in each grand tour, including one in the Tour on July 4, 2011. It is clear, though, he would have won more if Cavendish, who is just one year younger, had not emerged.
Once Farrar left the Slipstream franchise after the 2014 season for South African team MTN-Qhubeka, he changed roles to become a road captain and lead-out man. The role took greater importance this off-season when the team signed his former rival Cavendish and became a UCI WorldTour team. It is now racing as Dimension Data.
“Never say never,” Farrar responded when asked if he thinks it is now impossible for a sprinter to win six stages in the Tour. “The landscape of professional sprinting has changed. That being said, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to at least win a couple of stages at the Tour.”
Farrar named a long list of rivals with teams willing to support them: André Greipel (Lotto – Soudal), Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
“And sometimes Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. Sprinting is different than it was in 2009 or 2010, there is just more depth in the field. You are going to see less of one rider dominating the entire season of sprinting. We are not going to have that anymore,” Farrar explained.
“In every sprint you do now, there are eight or 10 guys who are generally fast enough to win, and are supported by a true lead-out train, which also wasn’t that way in the past. I remember as a kid, it was Saeco, then Telekom and Fassa Bortolo. Just one or two teams would dominate. Then it was HTC for a while. Now you have Giant, Katusha, Lampre, Tinkoff, us … And now all the GC leaders want a good lead-out train in the final kilometers of grand tours, too. It’s really changed the dynamic of field sprints.”
In 2012, French newspaper L’Equipe named Cavendish the Tour’s best ever sprinter. Besides Tour stages, he also counts 15 Giro d’Italia stage victories, a victory in 2009 Milano-Sanremo, and a rainbow jersey from the 2011 worlds.
“You can make a very good argument that he’s the greatest sprinter of all time,” Farrar said. “And if you are going to say he’s not, then you can’t say he’s outside the top three!”
Farrar now enjoys working for Cavendish and trying to increase his status in the realm of sprinters. He also helped Edvald Boasson Hagen win two stages in the Tour of Oman as the two prepared for the classics.
Cavendish is racing on the track this week before he returns to road sprinting, possibly in next week’s Tirreno-Adriatico. He is competing at the world championships in London as he tries to earn a spot on the British team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where he wants to win a gold medal in the omnium.