Team Sky man mindful of Olympics and Wiggins bid for yellow
With just four days to go until the start of the 2012 Tour de France, Cyclingnews was present in East London as 2011 green jersey winner Mark Cavendish held court at a press conference organised by Team Sky.
The 26-year-old from the Isle of Man looked lean and ready for action as he answered questions about his ambitions and that of his team for the three-week showpiece, which starts in Liège on Saturday. Cavendish was in a calm and co-operative mood but there was no doubting the steel in his eyes and supreme self-confidence in some of his answers, which is the hallmark of all great athletes as their date with destiny draws nearer and nearer.
"My form's really good, it's the best it's been for a few years heading into the Tour," he says.
"I've got a lot of wins this year and I'm excited to get started on Saturday. It's come round quickly - it always does - but I'm happy I've done everything right and prepared properly."
With the Tour imminent and the small matter of a home Olympics coming just six days after its finish, there is much on Cavendish's plate. So just how much has his new surroundings at Team Sky helped him to digest it all?
"You're not just expected to turn up and ride here - there's actually an emphasis on getting you prepared to ride," he said.
"I was never a big fan of the scientific approach in the past. I didn't used to look at my numbers on a graph. But I've been working with Tim Kerrison and Rod Ellingworth for a while now and I've come to realise that it wasn't the methods that I didn't like, it was the way they were presented to me.
"They're now put to me in a way I can understand and not by some scientist who has never ridden a bike and who thinks he knows more than me. You can see the results, you can see what's happening, you can see a trend. Once you buy into that it's incredible what you can do with your training. If anything it makes the pressure bigger as you've done everything right in preparation - there's no excuses if you fail."
This transformation in his training has paid dividends, with Cavendish saying he's in the best shape he's been in for years. Despite this, he claims that he doesn't have his eye on retaining the green jersey he won in Paris last July.
A combination of other ambitions and his team's stated goal of securing an historic yellow jersey for Bradley Wiggins appear to have put dreams of more green on the backburner, at least for now. And the fact that he won't have a full, dedicated leadout train doesn't appear to be an issue that fazes him.
"I don't think stage wins alone will be enough to win the green jersey this year, you'll have to go for the intermediates as well. I haven't got my eyes on green to be honest but of course there's always a chance.
"I've got other goals apart from the Tour de France (alluding to the Olympic Road Race on July 29). It's going to be a long July. I've been working on a lot of things, not just my sprint. I may not dominate the sprints like before but I should be there or thereabouts."
Indeed, Cavendish failed to win any of the sprints in the recent Ster ZLM Toer but consistently placed high enough to earn the overall victory, and the first stage race win of his career. It is a transformation from a focus on pure speed to bringing out characteristics more in line with a Classics rider in order to get over climbs like Box Hill, which he will face in London.
Cavendish still aims to win stages, but because the team will have limited resources dedicated to bunch sprints, he may not equal his records of past years.
"I won the World Championships without a leadout train and I think I've proved time and again that I can do it. You always need one or two guys to get you to that last 200m - nobody does it alone. We've got some guys at the Tour who can help me there but there's not going to be a full blown leadout train like I've had in the past.
"But I joined Team Sky because they're a British team and the biggest team in the world right now. Obviously I knew Brad had an opportunity to do well in the Tour de France and it's a big aim to win the yellow jersey for Sky. The aim is to win the yellow and green jerseys in the next few years. It's a good position to be in."
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