HTC: No reason to worry about Mark Cavendish’s slow start to season

TERNI, Italy (VN) — It’s not time to hit the Mark Cavendish panic button just yet. So says HTC-Highroad sports director Valerio Piva.

TERNI, Italy (VN) — It’s not time to hit the Mark Cavendish panic button just yet. So says HTC-Highroad sports director Valerio Piva. Tirreno-Adriatico leader Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo), one of the Manxman’s top rivals for Milan-San Remo, agreed after Friday’s stage, in which Cavendish finished 90th in the final sprint finish before La Primavera.

2011 Tour of Oman, Mark Cavendish wins final stage
Cavendish has been able to raise his arms in victory just once thus far this season.

“It was not drama. He loses the sprint, but he is still there,” said Piva. “It’s not a good sign, okay; maybe he’s not good enough. We’re still motivated; he is still motivated. The team is behind him and I see in the past also difficult moments.”

Piva said that his prize finisher is essentially on the same track he was on in 2009 when he was the surprise winner of la Primavera. Farrar beat him head-to-head at Tirreno that year, a week before Milan-San Remo. Cavendish has been a non-factor in the two bunch sprints in the seven-day World Tour event this week. On Thursday he lost position in the difficult run-in to Indicatore and came over the line with his hands out of the drops for 19th. A day later, Cavendish sat up in the final 250 meters and fell backward through the peloton.

“Hushovd passed on the left side and then it was a corner,” said Piva, describing the finale. “Renshaw passed, but Mark needed to brake. His speed was not high anymore. Then I hear him say to (Renshaw) to go.”

Cavendish has won only once in 2011, in the sixth stage of the Tour of Oman. He’s had two hard crashes and a run of bad luck. When he won his first one-day monument two years ago, he’d already raised his arms twice each in Qatar and California and once on the Adriatic coast in San Benedetto del Tronto.

Farrar emerged as a favorite for San Remo as soon as he crossed the finish line first in Indicatore. He said Friday that it would be silly to discount Cavendish’s chances on the Mediterranean on March 19.

“Some riders use this race to chase results, others purely as training,” said Farrar. “Just because somebody’s not in the running in the sprints here, doesn’t mean they won’t be in the running in San Remo.”

Perhaps more concerning for Cavendish than his own finishes at Tirreno is the fact that top domestique Bernhard Eisel was dropped on the 3.8-percent climb to Perugio on Friday. If the Manxman is to contend at San Remo, he’ll likely need the help of Eisel to get over the Poggio and Cipressa climbs in contact – or close to it – with the contenders. George Hincapie filled that key role in 2009, but departed at the end of that year for BMC Racing.

“We lost (Hayden) Roulston in the morning; he was sick and didn’t start. Eisel was dropped and those are two important riders for the final and we have only Renshaw. It was difficult to organize something,” said Piva. “It’s better of course if he stays in front with (Thor) Hushovd and his guys, but don’t forget Mark is not a climber like Hushovd and Freire. Every year it’s the same. Mark needs to survive of course on the climb and then if he’s there in the final he’ll have his chance.”

Cavendish lost contact with the peloton on Thursday’s second KOM climb, the 4.2km Poggio Alla Croce. He again dropped into the team cars in the 7.2km ramp into Perugia. He was able to claw back into the group, however, and followed Renshaw to the front for the final. It was only then that a hard acceleration into a right hand corner at 250 meters from fellow San Remo favorite Thor Hushovd (Garmin) that Cavendish lost momentum.

The final 250 meters aren’t the concern for Cavendish at Milan-San Remo. If he’s in position for the finale, the winningest sprinter since 2008 has shown more than anyone that he can close the deal, despite his bad fortune on Friday.

If Cavendish is to win the first of three monuments he plans to contest in 2011, it will likely be getting there that proves to be the biggest challenge.