By Shane Stokes
Although his goal of winning the last stage of the race was scuppered when the finishing criterium was cancelled, midway through due to dangerous weather conditions, young British rider Mark Cavendish finished the Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi with increased confidence in his ability as a sprinter. Still just 20 years of age, Cavendish finished fourth on stage two, fifth on stage seven and second on stage eight of the 2.HC ranked event, missing out on a likely win on the latter stage when his foot came out of the pedal inside the final 250 metres.
The world Madison champion had previously showed his road speed against the professionals in races such as the Tour of Britain, and finished sixth overall in the Langkawi points competition.
Cavendish showed his growing self-belief when he spoke to Cyclingnews after stage eight of the race. "It is quite good, I am quite consistent but it is so frustrating that this kind of thing could happen," he said. "My chain came off near the finish. It happened on the second-to-last corner. I wanted to be first around that because whoever did that would win it, but when I was going around my chain came off and my foot slipped out. I got going again and still finished second, but he [Hinault] was able to win the stage.
"I was pretty confident... I am the fastest sprinter here. I have known that from day one, but I just bottled it on a couple of stages. I am not used to people being at the same level as me in the sprints. I’ll do everything I can to win on Sunday - I have a great group of guys helping me out here [the Great Britain team] and like criteriums, so hopefully it will work out."
Torrential rain prevented that happening, but Cavendish will have further opportunities in 2006. Judging by how he has performed against the established professionals thus far, a big win isn’t far off for the Team Sparkasse rider.
Cavendish’s team-mates also impressed in Malaysia. Edward Clancy rode strongly in the mountains and the time trial, finishing 19th overall, while Russell Downing was second on stage seven of the race. Geraint Thomas and Matt Brammeier are, like Clancy and Cavendish, big hopes for the future and they too played a good part in the Malaysian Tour.