So used to being the centre of attention at the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish this year finds himself in an unfamiliar backseat position on a Sky team focused on defending Bradley Wiggins’ yellow jersey. With the Olympic Games on the agenda immediately after the Tour, however, the Manxman may well be grateful for small mercies as he prepares quietly for his big rendezvous in London on July 28.
As television crews swarmed around Wiggins and the intriguing Chris Froome at the Sky team hotel during the rest day in Brouilly, Cavendish discreetly held court at a rather more low-key roundtable discussion. Ten days into the race, Cavendish admitted that he was glad to have the chance to meet with his family on Tuesday and step out briefly from what he termed “the bubble of the Tour.”
“It’s not claustrophobic to be in it – it’s really nice to be in it – but it takes a lot of energy mentally to concentrate on one thing for three weeks,” Cavendish said. “To move out of it and enjoy normal life for one day is really good.”
Cavendish’s Olympic appointment means that his Tour is effectively made up of five Saturdays rather than the traditional four. He reiterated his intention to continue until the final stage in Paris, but he will cross the Channel that evening to begin his final countdown to the Olympics.
“We’re flying straight out on Sunday night and we’re just treating it as part of this, it’s a four-week process,” he said. “There might be a couple of days where I can relax but then there are three days of really working towards it. It’ll be just like imagining I’ve got a four-week race going on. But it’s just the last week [that] is pretty easy,” he joked.
“It’s the only way to really look at it because it’s hard to build yourself once and then do it again, so you have to look at it as one big chunk.”
Cavendish is said to have shed 4kg in a bid to improve his chances of surviving the repeated ascensions of Box Hill in the Olympics road race. While his running tally of one stage win at this year’s Tour might suggest that his top end speed has suffered as a result, Cavendish pointed out that such a statistic was a deceptive one.
“I thought maybe after ZLM [that my sprint had suffered] but I’d just come off a two-week block of training in the mountains, so of course I was going to be pretty sluggish in the sprints,” he said. “I’ve only won one stage here but I’ve won that alright after fighting from a fair position back. The other stage that Greipel won, when I was 5th, if you look how far I had to come to back on the helicopter shot, I was a lot faster than the others I think.”
Cavendish has also noticed a discernible difference in the climbs. Famously something of a fixture in the autobus thus far in his career, he had a more comfortable time of it on the Tour’s opening mountain stages in the Vosges and Jura.
“I wasn’t in the last group the other day and it wasn’t because I was fighting for it, it was that I was just relatively comfortable.”