By Bjorn Haake in Oostduinkerke
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) proved he is ready for Gent-Wevelgem next Wednesday by convincingly winning stage two of the Driedaagse of De Panne. The stage also included the key climb, the Kemmelberg, of next week's race.
In the day's stage, Tom Boonen (Quick Step) attacked hard over the Kemmelberg to check his form for Flanders. Cavendish also surged on the climb, but he did not intend his effort as direct competition against the Belgian Boonen. "I was just testing my legs for Gent-Wevelgem next week. I wanted to see how I will have to position myself on the climb."
Cavendish is itching to make up for his 2008 race. "Last year, I should have been further up, but I was too lazy in the final. Now I am really looking forward to Gent-Wevelgem."
The attack by Boonen on the Kemmelberg and the response by Cavendish led to a 50-man group, with Cavendish as the favorite. "The strongest riders were in the group, but unfortunately it all came back together." He added that the bigger group made the sprint more dangerous at the end, with many tired riders going for it despite their fatigue. "I didn't necessarily want to put my life in danger; but for me it is good practice to keep sprinting."
When asked if winning all the time was boring, Cavendish said no. "But it's stressful. Sometimes you lose so much energy just trying to be in the best position."
Boonen and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) stayed away from the mad dash to the line. "I really didn't want to sprint either today, but that's what I am paid to do," said Cavendish. "I can understand that they didn't want to take a risk ahead of the Tour of Flanders. I did the same in Tirreno, right before the Milano-Sanremo [which Cavendish won - ed.]."
Instead, Cavendish got his competition for the day from Katusha's sprinter Robbie McEwen. "Robbie was strong – I had to go harder than I anticipated – he really pushed me."
Cavendish won the second and third stage of De Panne last year, but he wasn't making any predictions for a similar outcome. "I have to see how I feel." His mind is already on Gent-Wevelgem already, but he'll take a win any day.