As a sprinter best suited to flat roads and fast finishes, you could forgive Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) for dreading the mountainous second portion of the Tour de France, which begins on Tuesday with stage 10.
The race enters the Pyrenees before heading to the Alps, with five summit finishes and plenty more hills in store throughout. There are scant opportunities for the fastmen, who will be notching up significant gruppetto time before the springing back into life in Paris.
However, Cavendish insists he’s actually looking forward to the mountains, which will provide a style of racing for him that will be a welcome tonic after the frantic nature of the opening nine stages.
“In a strange way, I’m looking forward to the next mountainous half of the Tour de France to ‘relax’. Not the legs of course, just the head. I’m looking forward to just suffering,” Cavendish said in a blog post for Etixx-QuickStep.
“No need to ride 200km with my fingers slightly contracted over my brake levers. No need to ride 200km with my elbow constantly touching someones hip. No need to ride 200km with Brian Holm telling us to stay at the front after we’ve just passed a roundabout on the wrong side and lost 60 positions.”
This is Cavendish’s eighth Tour – if you discount last year’s where he crashed out on the first stage – and as such he is more than familiar with the rigours of the opening week.
“Every day brings a stress that subsided, but was never quite forgotten from the year before," he said. "You come back and realise what makes the Tour de France so unique. The consequences of every action, on and off the bike, are exaggerated, analysed, and have a direct effect on your next action.
“It’s the mental, emotional stress that makes the 1st week of the Tour de France the hardest week of racing in the calendar.”
It is perhaps easier for Cavendish to feel relaxed at this juncture having been victorious on stage 7 to Fougères, where he took his Tour de France tally to 26. It was his first Tour win in two years and, in the face of growing doubts over whether he has passed his peak, and with a contract yet to be signed for next season, it must have felt like a monkey off his back.
His team have also enjoyed a highly successful start, with three stage wins from three different riders, though it was soured somewhat by Tony Martin abandoning the race with a broken collarbone while wearing the yellow jersey.
“The Tour doesn’t wait. Whether you gain or lose in a certain day, the next day will have a different challenge, that if you don’t seize, another team will," said Cavendish. "So whatever emotions I’ve had, good and bad, this first week, are really nice to reflect on today, but will be irrelevant tomorrow and the following week.
“I just know that whatever emotions we’re likely to feel, I’m looking forward to just suffering, not stressing.”