2011 road world champion Mark Cavendish held a press conference at the Tour of Qatar on Monday night, where he elaborated on the illness that jeopardised his Team Sky debut, his preparations for the biggest summer of his career, who he fears most amongst his fellow sprinters and what it is about his new team that sets it apart from the others. And Cyclingnews was on hand to fire a few questions at him and record his answers...
On the illness that almost kept him out of the Tour of Qatar:
"It hasn’t fully gone. It will take a few days to get over a virus like that. I was in bed for something like 25 hours out of 30 and it knocked me back a bit so I’m still feeling the effects. I struggled a bit on stage one but today at the team trial I felt a bit better. I’m not feeling sick anymore - I might feel a bit weak for the next couple of days but day to day I should be feeling stronger."
On who he fears most among his rivals:
Matthew Goss is the only rider around who I fear could beat me in a bunch sprint. When he’s on form he arrives there fresh, he can climb well and he’s clever on the bike. I’ve known him a long time and raced amateurs with him. He’s the only man that I believe can beat me if I don’t make a mistake.
On what it's like to wear the rainbow jersey and the pressure/responsibility that comes with it:
"It’s nice. It’s not the first time that I’ve raced in the world championship jersey, I did a couple of races in it at the back end of last season. So I know what it’s like to wear it in the peloton. It’s great to start off with Team Sky wearing it and feel the support and honour that comes with it. I’ve had a good winter and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I want to do the jersey proud. I know when I am in good form I’ll be able to do that so it makes me happy.
"Those rainbow bands signify the world road race champion. It’s a dream that every road cyclist has since they are young. It’s a one day race and everything has to go right on that certain day. It’s not often that the chance presents itself to sprinters like me. With Rod Ellingworth we set up a plan over three years and as a nation we executed it absolutely spot on. Every time I look at the rainbow bands I am taken back to that day and I know that I can wear the jersey with pride. But I don’t think it’s going to put a camera on me any more than I am already used to. The pressure on me to win bike races has been there since I turned professional."
On keeping his edge between the Tour de France and the Olympics:
It won't be easy but it depends how I prepare for it really. I’ve been preparing for the last couple of years to specifically win the sprints and I’ve been a bit heavier, which hinders my recovery slightly. This year it’s more about working on my endurance. I might not have a top edge in the sprints but I’ll certainly win a few stages there and hopefully carry on that form for an extra week. In 2009 I won a race one week after Tour de France. It wasn’t the Olympic Games, it was the Bochum Giro, but it proves that it can be done.
"It will be hard to pick myself up after the Olympics though. It will be a long July. We haven’t really set a programme for the later part of the year. I will ride the world championships as I want to honour the jersey and defend it. It’s not a course that I can win on, but there are plenty of British riders who could. So maybe I’ll do an early job there."
On Team Sky's dual ambitions at the Tour, Bernie Eisel and why the team has exceeded his expectations:
"I think Team Sky have got the personnel and the support to fight for the yellow and the green jerseys in the same year. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be here. I really believe that we have the capabilities to achieve both goals. It was really important to have Bernie come across here with me as he’s my best friend. He is a huge help to me both on and off the bike and you’ll see that he’ll be by my side for the whole year again. I think that it was a given that we would always stay together.
"Focussing in the winter hasn’t been hard at all. I joined a new team and my contract started at the beginning of January but everyone in cycling knows that you start the relationship before that. Team Sky are a lot more structured than my last team and though I have done more than in previous winters it feels like I’ve done less. I’ve spoken to some of my old team and they’ve told me how relaxed it is in their new surroundings. It’s the opposite at Team Sky but I thrive off it. The attention to detail they bring is second to none."
On winning awards away from mainstream cycling:
"Everybody who knows me knows I’m a bit of a control freak. The meticulous preparation that goes into my races is because I want to be in control of every scenario. Anything that’s bestowed upon you, either by the public or by royalty, is out of your control. I can tell you I’ve never been as nervous as I was at the BB Sports Personality of the Year ceremony. In terms of The Queen, I knew that was happening a few months before I went there. It was nice to finally get the recognition from her. I was one of the last ones of my friends to get it as the lads who won gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 got theirs then. It’s a warm feeling to know that what you’ve achieved has been recognised.
"But I don’t think I’ll ever step back and appreciate anything in my career until it’s finished. On and off the bike, the only thing I’m going to step back and dwell on is the birth of my daughter this year."