HTC-Highroad chief Rolf Aldag admitted on Sunday at the Tour de France that his dream duo of Mark Cavendish and Matt Goss may face an uphill battle to reel in early front runner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and current Tour leader Thor Hushovd (Garmin Cervelo) in the green jersey competition.
No points were awarded in Sunday's team time trial, meaning that Cavendish must wait another 24 hours before he can make any inroads into Gilbert and Hushovd's respective 41- and 26-point advantages.
Goss, meanwhile, is yet to get off the mark.
On Sunday in Les Essarts, HTC's victory hopes effectively ended with Bernhard Eisel's crash in the first 500 metres. Twenty-four hours earlier, as Goss and Cavendish were both delayed by crashes in the final two kilometres, Aldag and his sprint twins discovered that the green jersey rule changes thought likely to favour Cavendish may have a quite different effect.
"My prediction for green is that guys like Thor, even Gilbert - they have an advantage," Aldag said. "I just don't know if they realize it yet and if they're going to go for it. If Omega-Pharma after one week says to itself, 'Wait a minute, Gilbert won another stage, and if we put Greipel in front of him, he's not going to win a flat stage but he can finish fifth or seventh.' That's the problem, you see: yesterday Goss and Cav got zero [sic] and Gilbert's already on 45. Tomorrow, Cav could get 45, but Gilbert could still get 20. So, whatever you do, you just never come back if you get zero on so many occasions. That was the problem when Cav won six stages in 2009: Thor wasn't winning but he was always picking up points, and that could happen even more at this Tour."
With just one intermediate sprint per stage now worth 20 points each, many believed that Cavendish's superior speed would make the Manxman the hot favourite to take the first green jersey of his career. On Saturday, though, he seemed hesitant as rival teams turned the first intermediate sprint in Avrillé into a mini-stampede. His sprint in the final 100 metres seemed oddly uncommitted.
Aldag conceded today that neither Cavendish nor his team had known quite what to expect.
"We were a bit uncertain starting that mini-sprint," Aldag said. "We were like, 'Let's see how it goes. We don't necessarily have to win it, but we have to get some points.' Then, mentally, you go into a sprint you're not really locked in for, and we come too early, it's uphill, it's a headwind and it's all a little bit unusual and unexpected, and it's like 'Oh no!' We wanted to see really what happened and how seriously the others took it and of course we will adjust but that's a long way down the road.
"Having no points now is definitely not helpful," Aldag said, returning to the original theme. "It was a little bit expected but you always hope that somehow it might slow down, somehow you hang in and maybe finish 12th yesterday, maybe Hushovd gets dropped too, but none of that happened, so it's not perfect. Yesterday was a really bad day for us so we have to do it better. Even the idea of Goss taking some points - he then goes down with two kilometres to go. So, no, it wasn't great all round."