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Why didn’t he follow Sagan? Cavendish explains worlds sprint

Mark Cavendish rues a snap judgement in the worlds sprint finale. He bet Sagan would be boxed out, but ended up second-place.

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DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Mark Cavendish didn’t sleep well overnight, but how could he?

In what he characterized as his last chance to win the world title, Cavendish kept playing the finale over and over to try to figure out what happened. In his mind’s eye, he should have won, but in the frenetic reality of Sunday’s thrilling sprint, Peter Sagan defended the rainbow jersey.

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“It’s pretty hard to take, really,” Cavendish told VeloNews. “It’s a missed opportunity — I should have won it. I’ve been thinking about it every minute since we finished.”

Here’s how Cavendish described his approach to the final sprint and his decision to sweep left rather than follow Sagan up the right side of the finishing stretch: “Every other race all week, the right hand side closed, so if you’re on the right, you got boxed in. My plan was to go around the left, [Sagan] went right, and 99 out of 100 times, it should have closed down.

“And I wouldn’t have expected someone who was sprinting for the win, like [Michael] Matthews, would die so much right at the end, so I had to restart my sprint. Maybe in another life, I would have tried to squeeze through a gap that wasn’t there. Yesterday wasn’t the time to do that. I had to backpedal, come around him, and restart my sprint, and by then it was too late.”

The morning after the race, Cavendish was relatively calm as he sat down for a quick chat in the hotel lobby in Doha. He raced a near-perfect race, safely riding into the decisive split, and then setting himself up for the win. What irks him almost as much as losing is that he realizes this will likely be his final shot the world title. The next three world championships — Bergen, Innsbruck and Yorkshire — are sure to deliver lumpier terrain.

“I know Peter is going to win the worlds two more times. That was my last opportunity to win the worlds,” he said. “But look at that podium; three former world championships standing there together. There’s a reason the race is so special, and it always provides a worthy winner. We were the only three world champions in the race, and we all finished in the podium.”

Cavendish also revealed that he crashed hard Wednesday in training and was worried he wouldn’t be able to race.

“I felt better in than I thought I would. Falling ill a few weeks really set me back, and then I had a big crash on Wednesday. I kept it quiet, but in the end, it didn’t affect me that much,” he said. “It was during the team training, we were rocking at 55kph, and there was a rock in the road. The guys swerved, and I just hit it, and took off some skin. When I hit the ground, I didn’t think I’d be racing yesterday.”

He also said the race was harder than it might have appeared on TV, and said it was more grueling than the Copenhagen worlds he won in 2011.

“It was a real bike race, and they were well organized. If it was just the circuits, it would not have split,” he said. “[Sunday] was probably one of the hardest worlds. It was definitely harder than Copenhagen. People just don’t understand it. It would have been even more spectacular had it been shorter. Ironically, with the long distance, the last two laps were just a procession.”

The season’s not done yet. He flies to Abu Dhabi to close out the road season, then hits a few six-day track races before heading to Dimension Data’s first team camp ahead of 2017. No rest for the weary, but he has promised to take his kids to EuroDisney.

“At the end of the day, if you’re going to get beaten by anyone, it probably best by Sagan. He wears that jersey well,” Cavendish said. “He represents the world championships really well. That’s alright. And if you’re going to put your chips on the table, it paid off for him.”