Mark Cavendish has played down his prospects of winning the green jersey in the Tour de France, insisting that he will be happy to reach Paris and claim just one stage along the way.
"If I don’t win one I’ll have failed," said the 24-year old. "But this is the Tour de France, there are another 190 guys who all want to win a stage. If I win one stage and reach Paris I’ll be content."
Cavendish is the bookies’ favourite to win the green jersey, which he says is "a bit optimistic," with his Columbia-HTC team manager, Bob Stapleton, echoing his star rider. "It’s tough for Mark," said Stapleton, “the expectations are too high."
"In Britain especially it’s really unfair," Stapleton continued. “If he doesn’t win every sprint then people will say he screwed up. But his first goal is to reach Paris. His second is to win stages. People have him as the big favourite for the green jersey but that’s a big load for a 24-year old who, last year, went from someone no one knew to a big star. But he knows we’re behind him 100 per cent and he draws strength from his team-mates."
Cavendish added: "I’d like the green jersey but I think it’s more realistic to look for stage wins. I want to win stages and get to Paris: those are my two goals. The green jersey is more special [than stage wins] but I’ve never reached Paris yet, so to start the Tour saying I’m going to try to win green is a bit optimistic."
Cavendish identified Thor Hushovd and Oscar Freire as strong contenders for the green jersey, and picked out as many as seven stages that could be decided by a bunch sprint. "There could be five, six or seven sprints if you take away days with breaks, or days I have bad luck.
"It’s the first Tour I’ve started not feeling nervous," he continued. "I’m just letting it come to me. In my first year  it completely overwhelmed me, then last year I knew I was capable of doing something and that overwhelmed me a bit. This year I know what I’m doing.
"I’m a year older and I’ve lost weight and gained strength. It’s maybe just a couple of kilos difference, but I’ve lost fat and I can get up the hills better."
Cavendish added, however, that he will not go "full gas" in Saturday’s time trial, ruling it too long. "In a simpler prologue I could maybe limit my losses but with no time bonuses [in the road stages that follow] there’s no point in me going full gas. You’ve got to go hard, because it’s a hard course, and there’s a time limit, but there’s no point in me going full gas."
The British rider’s first chance of a victory should come in Sunday’s stage to Brignoles. "It’s tough, not pan flat, and it’s going to take a bit of energy," he said, "but I’ve got good form, a great team, so we’ll see how it goes."
Cavendish also reacted positively to the news that Tom Boonen has been cleared to start. "From our point of view, as a team, it should make things easier," said Cavendish. "It means his team [Quickstep] will also be trying to set up sprints. But it doesn’t bother me who’s here and who isn’t – it doesn’t change anything. I just want to be first across the line."
Stapleton also commented on Boonen’s reprieve, saying: "It’s not a huge surprise to me. When the UCI said [his cocaine positive] was not sanctionable from a sporting point of view that cleared the way for him to appeal.
"I hope Tom gets all the help he can get,” added Stapleton. "That’s my biggest concern. It’s clear he has some issues. But, athletically, it probably helps us because [Quickstep] will help set up sprints."