Sport director: Cavendish has nothing to prove
The British sprinter has won 25 Tour de France stages in his career
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CALPE, Spain (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) doesn’t seem panicky about the coming season. Despite crashing out of the Tour de France last year without winning a stage for the first time since his debut, the Manxster is full of his trademark bluff and gruff ahead of what’s sure to be a very challenging season in the sprints.
When asked if he felt pressure to win a stage in the 2015 Tour against the likes of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Cavendish just shrugged.
“Not really. I’ve won 25 stages,” he told journalists at a recent media day. “If I win one stage at the Tour, I’d be happy. One stage in the Tour is a rider’s career, it makes his career, so it’s a big thing to win one stage each year. You have to give the respect to the Tour de France it deserves.”
Cavendish might have had the same defiance when facing the media rabble, but there are serious questions about his place in the sprint hierarchy coming into 2015.
Once a dominator of the bunch sprints, Cavendish is being swarmed by all sides in what’s arguably the deepest, most talented sprint field in cycling history.
Not only are the likes of Kittel and Greipel bringing full-on sprint trains to challenge Cavendish, other teams are playing their chances in the sprints. Add in Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and the occasional fliers from one-offers, and winning any sprint these days, especially in grand tours packed with challenging stages, is no easy feat.
When asked if he’s losing any sleep over Kittel, Cavendish shrugged again: “I concentrate on trying to win bike races. I don’t concentrate on other bike riders. I concentrate on the finish line, and trying to cross it first.”
For 2015, Milano-Sanremo will present him with an early-season challenge before returning to the Tour. A possible start in the Giro d’Italia, a race Cavendish loves, remains up in the air.
For Etixx brass, pushing Cavendish back into the winner’s bracket in the bunch sprints is a top priority for 2015. The team will bring a solid leadout, with Mark Renshaw back in his second year with Cavendish following his seasons with Rabobank trying his own luck.
A few early wins would bolster the confidence, but sport director Rolf Aldag knows the Tour is what really counts when it comes to the peloton’s fastest men.
“Everyone is measured against the success at the Tour de France,” Aldag told VeloNews. “There was one year, when he won five stages in the Giro, and two in the Tour, and people said he had a bad season … that’s how big the Tour is.”
Aldag admits the competition is tougher than it’s ever been before, and accepts that Cavendish won’t be winning every sprint he contests. Those days are over, but Aldag also said Cavendish has nothing to prove.
“There is a lot of pressure on him, and he wants to prove himself, but he doesn’t have to prove anything,” Aldag continued. “He wants to, he doesn’t have to. If you look at his palmares, 99.5 percent of pro riders will never get there — so is there anything to prove? No.”
Cavendish, however, is one of the most emotional and competitive riders in the bunch. Settling for anything less than outright victory simply isn’t part of his makeup. Coming back from injury late last season, Cavendish was close to victory, but was pipped in London by archrival Kittel in the final stage of the Tour of Britain. Aldag said he’s not worried about Cavendish’s health.
“I am not worried at all that he is good. He will be as good as he can. Then we will see how that is compared to the others, mainly against Kittel,” Aldag said. “Kittel was the man [in last year’s Tour] … because Cav wasn’t there. We still have to figure him out. Looking at the first two stages at the Giro last year, he is unbeatable … but at the Tour, in London, he was unbeatable, but every other stage, Mark could have beaten him at his best. Kittel won them and he deserved them, but I do think we have a great chance for the Tour.”
Aldag said Cavendish’s pride and professionalism is pushing him.
“He’s a professional bike rider. He has the winning gene in his body. The sprinters have that. For his own motivation and his career, he has to do something, for him,” he said.
“His bank account should be fine, he doesn’t have to do it anymore, but the way I am seeing here, he wants to do it. And that’s the important thing. Just out of pressure, out of expectations, or that he has to prove something, he wants to want it.”