On the eve of the start of the Giro d'Italia, Mark Cavendish stoked the (mostly) friendly rivalry burning between his Columbia-Highroad team and Garmin-Slipstream, calling Garmin's apparent fixation with the 20.5km team time trial that kicks off the Italian Grand Tour on Saturday "disrespectful".
Garmin recently spent three days at their base in Girona, Spain, working solely on team time trial drills.
"The thing about it is that the Giro's 21 days," Cavendish said Friday morning. "I think it's a bit disrespectful to the race [Garmin staking so much on this]… Your race is going to start on the first day and end on the first day, and that's what Garmin is fundamentally doing. They've said their season starts tomorrow. Their sponsor's paid money for the first six months of the year [sic]…and I think that's highly respectful to those guys. It's May. Their season starts tomorrow, and I think it's going to end tomorrow night. I mean, come on..."
Cavendish was speaking to a small gathering of journalists in the hotel Westin Palace, close to Venice's world-famous Piazza San Marco. At the same press briefing, Columbia chief Bob Stapleton added further spice to what is shaping up to be a fascinating duel between the two American-based outfits, pointing out that his team won 16 individual time trials in 2008, as compared with Garmin's year-end total of 12 victories of any description. Garmin did, however, beat Columbia by seven seconds to win the equivalent team time trial in last year's Giro in Palermo.
Bradley Wiggins, who joined Garmin from Columbia at the end of last year, commented of this year's TTT on Thursday, "as long as we beat Columbia we'll be alright…"
Although agreeing that preparation was vital for a technical event like Saturday's, Cavendish claimed that his team had done little in the way of practice.
"We did none really last year and we've done nothing again," he said. "We've got a versatile team, though. We've got 21 races in this Giro, 21 chances. Garmin have got the TTT and what else?
"The TTT is a series of short efforts," the Milan-San Remo champion said. "You need to learn how to ride it. It's not about getting nine riders from A to B. It's about getting the team riding together, and that's how you'll get the best out of the team."
Speaking about the Giro in general, Cavendish reckoned he would probably have "four or five" chances of sprint wins. Having never previously sported a prize jersey in a major tour, he revealed that a stint in the pink or ciclamino (points) jersey could also be among his ambitions for this race.
Columbia-Highroad is the first team due on the start-ramp Saturday, at 3:35 pm local time. Garmin-Slipstream will be fourth off at 3:50 pm, while the final team to start, Astana, will begin at 5:20 pm.