Manxman hoping Tuscan knowledge and improving form will give an edge
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) looked relaxed and confident at the Tirreno-Adriatico pre-race press conference.
While Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) may have been born just a short ride away, Cavendish starts Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday with a home advantage on sprint rivals André Greipel and Marcel Kittel because of his growing links to Tuscany.
"I've ridden every edition of Tirreno-Adriatico since 2008," Cavendish explains, often answering questions in Italian and then translating his own words into English.
"I like it. I have a place in Tuscany and last year I came here (to the Tuscan coast) after the Tour de France and stayed near here. I know these roads well. It's a nice race. When Milan-San Remo is a big goal, Italian racing is important preparation and Tirreno-Adriatico provides that. All the Classics riders and teams want to prepare their form and so always have strong teams here."
"I think knowing the roads gives me an advantage. It means you know where to be in front and know what will happen."
"As a team, Omega Pharma-Quick Step is targeting the GC. We can win the team time trial, Kwiatkowski has shown he's in incredible form and we've got Rigoberto Uran here too. We'll try and pick up the sprints early on but the main objective is the overall. There's not much pressure on me but its nice to come here and be with the team that I'll be racing with for the majority of the year: I've got Petacchi and Renshaw here and we've got a strong team. I'm looking forward to the week of racing."
Cavendish has won three stages at Tirreno-Adriatico over the years, the last being a shared victory with his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates in the opening TTT.
The Belgian team went on to win the world championship TTT race in Florence in September, but lost out by less than a second in the time trial stage at the Tour de France. Wednesday's 18.5km TTT will be the latest grudge match of the fast men, with the flat course calling for high speed, slick teamwork and lots of power. Omega Pharma-QuickStep can count on Tony Martin to provide the speed and power, while Cavendish has the leadership skills to ensure they ride as a team.
The Manxman refused to make a prediction for the top three in the team time trial and refused to be drawn out on if he will lead the team over the line, but nobody should be surprised if he is the first rider in the blue leader's jersey on Wednesday afternoon. His development as part of the Great Britain academy programme means he loves riding team time trials.
"A lot of teams finished very close last year and it's nice to start off with a TTT, it's good for the spectators and is good for the sprinters," Cavendish said.
"If you win it, it can make a difference for the overall race and it gives you a cushion of time you can use to control the racing in the following stages."
Tirreno-Adriatico leads to Milan-San Remo
Just as March marks the moment when winter turns to spring in Italy, Tirreno-Adriatico leads the peloton from the early-season to the Classics season and onto Milan-San Remo.
Cavendish had written off ever targeting Milan-San Remo again after race organiser RCS Sport insisted on adding the Pompeiana climb in the finale between the Cipressa and the Poggio. Now the route has returned to the traditional route, without even the mid-race Manie climb, Cavendish is happy to have a chance of victory at the monumental Classic that he won in 2009 in his first ever attempt.
"For sure I'm happy. Before I didn’t want to do Milan-San Remo. Now for sure I do. It (the route) is even easier than when I won. It’s the course from the last 50 years where I saw my idols win it," he said.
Cavendish opted for a slower start to the 2014 season because of the changes to Milan-San Remo and because the opening stage of the Tour de France to Harrogate is his biggest goal of the season. He also burned up his energy and form in the first half of 2013 by racing a lot and finishing the Giro d'Italia, leaving little left for when it mattered at the Tour de France. He will not make the same mistake this year, even if it means he might not be at his very best for Milan-San Remo.
"I'm not on top form. I started the season pretty steady," Cavendish admitted.
"I started at full gas last year and come the Tour de France I was on my knees. I and the team wanted to start things easier this year and go to races without any real pressure. I've actually been able to train well at home because I haven't been recovering from races. I'm actually going better than I imagined. I'm obviously missing that little bit of top end but July is still a long way out."
Cavendish has proved he can still win sprints even when not at his very best by taking final stage at the Volta ao Algarve. He has been training hard in Tuscany since but is ready to take defeat by main rivals Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) on the chin, knowing that he is going to get fitter and faster as the season goes on.
"It's still possible to win bike races with a strong team but its not like he old days where I can I say 'Yeah, I'll win today'," he admitted.
Of course that will not stop him taking on Kittel and Greipel at Tirreno-Adriatico or stop him riding Milan-San Remo.
"If I didn't ride it, I'd regret it," he said. "We've got a strong team. Tom (Boonen) has been aiming for Milan-San Remo and so we'll ride it and see what happens. We have other guys and ways to attack the race. I’m happy to go and try. There’s no pressure to win."
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