Team director says Mark Cavendish will be ready for Milan-San Remo, Roubaix

Though Mark Cavendish has been relatively quiet so far this season, HTC-Highroad brass is confident that their ace sprinter is poised for a brilliant season.

Team confirms Cavendish will race Roubaix, all three grand tours

2009 Milan-San Remo: Mark Cavendish and Heinrich Haussler
Cavendish caught Heinrich Haussler on the line to win Milan-San Remo in 2009

Though Mark Cavendish has been relatively quiet so far this season, HTC-Highroad brass is confident that their ace sprinter is poised for a brilliant season.

Cavendish will be as ambitious as always, with eyes on repeating his 2009 win at Milan-San Remo and racing on the cobblestones at Flanders and Roubaix before a likely return to the Giro d’Italia. After that, he’ll take aim at the elusive green jersey at the Tour de France and then the rainbow jersey at the world championships in Copenhagen with a detour through the Vuelta a España.

It’s an ambitious calendar, but HTC-Highroad sport director Brian Holm says the Manxster is in fighting form.

“Cav is as good as he was two years ago. He’s super-motivated to race and his first big goal is Milan-San Remo,” Holm told VeloNews. “He feels better than he did last year. He’s maybe even stronger. It should be a big year for him.”

Holm says Cavendish’s off-season has seen none of the drama of last year that included a tooth infection that complicated his spring campaign. His 2010 season debut was postponed until mid-February’s Ruta del Sol and his first win didn’t come until at the Volta a Catalunya in late March, relatively late by Cavendish’s standards — he had already won four times by the end of February in 2009.

Cavendish kicked to his first win of the 2011 season in the final stage of the Tour of Oman on February 20, a victory that helped silence some of the wagging tongues.

“Everyone is worried about Cav, except us,” Holm continued. “It was like last year at the Tour de France. It took a few days to get his first win and everyone thought he was finished. You don’t win six stages in the previous Tour and then suddenly disappear. He’s going to win races.”

At his first two races, Cavendish shook off a pair of crashes and turned the tables to pay back favors to his teammates who help him win all season long. At the Tour of Qatar, he helped his ace lead-out man and pilot Mark Renshaw win the overall. In his season debut at Australia, he was helping set-up emerging sprinter Matt Goss win a stage, the points jersey and finish second overall at the Tour Down Under.

Many pundits expected Cavendish to come out guns-a-blazing this year at Down Under and Qatar, especially in what was a hyped first showdown against former teammate André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and arch-rival Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo).

But Holm said the plan is for Cavendish to hit an early season peak at the spring classics before rebuilding for the Tour de France and ideally strike again at the world championships in Copenhagen on a sprinter-friendly course.

After San Remo, Holm confirmed that Cavendish will return to the Tour of Flanders (which he abandoned last year) and start Paris-Roubaix for the first time.

2011 Tour of Oman, Mark Cavendish wins final stage
Cavendish scored his first 2011 win at the Tour of Oman

“That’s his plan. I’m a little nervous (about Roubaix), but he loves the classics and he wants to race all the big races,” Holm said. “He loves the atmosphere of the classics and he loves racing on the cobblestones. He just loves cycling. He’s one of the few young guys who knows anything about the history of the sport. Freddy Maertens showed up to the team camp, Mark knew all about him. A lot of the young guys didn’t have a clue who he was.”

Cavendish will then likely race in all three grand tours, with a likely start in the Giro ahead of a run at the green jersey in the Tour that’s eluded him the past two seasons. A Vuelta start will also be in the cards ahead of the sprint-friendly world’s route in Copenhagen.

With all that racing ahead of him, no wonder Cavendish has been a little slow out of the gate.