Counting down to the big show

Mark on his final preparations for the Tour de France

It's Tour time!

With less than a week until the 2012 Tour de France begins in Liege, it's all about staying focussed. I'm still spending time at altitude and I will head to Belgium on Wednesday night. The two days before the Grand Depart should just be some recon of the prologue and the first stage.

Because it is the biggest race of the year, now is about trying to switch on 100 per cent. All the little one percenters – diet, gym, stretching and massage – in the two weeks leading up to the Grand Depart is the most important thing I'll do all season. It's not something I can do all year; you have to pick and choose when that time is. If there's any extra weight to trim, and as a sprinter you can't really race super-light all year, it's time to focus on doing that. Everyone gets tired as the weeks go on so the fresher you are every day – whether it's because you're a little bit lighter – it can make a little bit of a difference.

If there's one thing that I really enjoy about the Tour is that it's the best organised race of the lot. The transfers are never long. There's a tradition that's followed, you do the Alps or the Pyrenees, you can rely on certain sprint and time trial stages – the layout of the Tour is the best in the world and for that reason, it will always be that much bigger than the Vuelta or the Giro, along with being the most popular race.

The one thing I don't look forward to is knowing that you're racing 197 other cyclists that are in the best form that they possibly can be. Everybody wants to do something so it becomes so hard to get a result. It's another reason why it's the best race in the world.

I managed two seconds and a third in my last race before the Tour, Ster ZLM Toer and it was a really good boost for my confidence. There were only a few guys missing from the race: Petacchi, Farrar and Goss so I'm definitely capable of running podiums, if not winning stages once we roll around to the Tour. I just need to keep improving and stay healthy.

This will be the second year where we have the intermediate sprint and I can assure you, we utilised a lot of energy there in 2011 so it will be interesting to see who really targets them for the green jersey. I've already seen that Greipel said that he won't, along with a few others. I think it's really going to come down to who shows their cards early. I think Sagan will and you'll see two or three teams with lead outs and then the rest will freestyle in and limit their loses each day. It's such a hard competition to win.

If I had to pick a top three for the points classification, I'd go with Sagan, Cavendish and Griepel. There's no way I'd try and predict their order though! Sagan will be scoring points in the intermediate sprints on the days that are quite hard, after climbs and so on, but I think it's going to be quite hard for him to be in the mix on the pure sprint stages.

As for my own ambitions, to be honest I'm not too sure how I'll approach it. Each day where there's a sprint I'll give it 100 per cent to try and win and then it's about seeing how the legs have recovered in order to do the intermediate sprints. It could be an easier way to pick up some points compared to the finish. After the first week, I'll assess the situation.

Rabobank has selected a really strong climbing team so I'm going to be largely on my own. I may get some help from Maarten Tjallingii and Maarten Wijnants up until about three or four kilometres to go – from there I'll be fending for myself. It's going to be tough but on the other side of the coin I now know what I have to do.


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