A brace of early-season sprint victories is normally enough to nudge a rider towards the top of the list of favourites for Milan-San Remo but Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) moved to downplay his chances of triumphing at La Classicissima for the second time when he spoke to reporters at the Tour of Qatar on Tuesday.
During pre-season training in Calpe, Cavendish had already made known his belief that the pace on the climb of Le Manie severely limits his chances of repeating his 2009 victory in Milan-San Remo, and he reiterated those thoughts after sprinting to victory on stage 3 of the Tour of Qatar.
“I’m not looking forward to Milan-San Remo. I’ve written it off for the last month, it’s not really a race for me anymore,” Cavendish said. “It’s not a big priority for me anymore. I’ll race it but it’s not a big objective at the beginning of the year, it’s too difficult.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that Cavendish made similar protestations ahead of his debut in 2009, citing his inexperience over the distance, before popping up with the win on the Lungomare Italo Calvino.
However, on Tuesday Cavendish expressed his wish simply to win consistently between now and the Tour de France, and “to be successful there.” Perhaps after building his last two seasons around very specific objectives with the British national team – the 2011 world championships in Copenhagen and the London 2012 Olympics – Cavendish is keen to enjoy his victories as they come rather than as a means to some far-off end. In any case, he declared himself pleased with his condition after descending from the podium in Mesaieed.
“I’m incredibly light, even lighter than I was this time last year,” Cavendish said. “I don’t know how that will be form-wise, I don’t know how strong I am. I’m definitely not putting out the same peak watts as I was last year but that’s ok because I’m still winning bike races and I’m really happy with that.”
On reaching his team car after crossing the line, Cavendish was given hearty embraces by both Omega Pharma-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere and directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters, and he was mindful to highlight the efforts of Niki Terpstra in guiding him through the peloton in the closing stages.
“I’m really happy with Omega Pharma-QuickStep. They put a lot of faith in signing me so I want to consistently prove my worth to them,” he said. “I just want to continue to try and win through the year up to the Tour and then hopefully have a very successful Tour de France once again.”
Before that, Cavendish is in line for the second stage race victory of his career after last year’s Ster ZLM Toer, although he was non-committal about his chances of winning the Tour of Qatar. Just 8 seconds off the lead, and with a 10-second bonus of offer for stage victory, golden jersey Brent Bookwalter (BMC) has earmarked Cavendish as the favourite.
“I haven’t come here saying I want to win GC,” Cavendish said. “I’m a different rider to what Tom [Boonen] is. He knows he’s going to be in the front echelon every time. He uses his strength. He can get in a group of three whereas I really can’t. It’s always a possibility but it will only come from trying to take every stage as it comes.”