By Gerry McManus
Britain's Mark Cavendish is looking forward to rolling down the ramp when the Tour de France prologue time trial starts in London on Saturday. The 22 year-old T-Mobile professional is currently relaxing at home with friends and family on the Isle of Man before he steps into the unknown in the biggest challenge of his cycling career.
"When I first turned senior I imagined that maybe I could ride the Tour in 2009," said Cavendish. "I had wanted to get a professional contract in 2007 but getting a Tour ride in my first year is a bit of a surprise."
The Tour de France call up comes after Cavendish's six victories this season, where he took on, and beat, the more established sprinters like Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) and Erik Zabel (Milram). But despite his success the Manxman is too busy enjoying his cycling to feel any pressure.
"I was always confident in my ability coming into the professional ranks and I have been really enjoying it. It is not often that a neo-pro gets the opportunities to go for the sprints and I am grateful for the team for giving me that," continued Cavendish. "Coming into the Tour I know I have got a great team and team management behind me that never put that much pressure on me and I don't think that will change.
"I want do to well for the team and myself," he added. "It's a win-win situation really; if I go into the Tour and achieve some results or if I go in and just gain experience for next year. Of course I am excited but also a little scared of going into the unknown. It is the biggest sporting event in the world and there's no other bike race like it on the planet. I don't know how hard it is going to be so I am going in to do what I do best which is ride my bike."
Cavendish will receive great support from friends, family and the British public throughout the race with a big contingent travelling over from the Isle of Man for the Grand Depart.
"My family are all coming down to watch me and that will be good," he reported. "I know there will be a big contingent of British bike riders watching but I just hope the general public can come to watch it and appreciate just what a beautiful sport cycling is. I am new to the sport and a massive anti-doping campaigner.
"It is disappointing that people automatically associate the sport with doping and that's hard for me," he confessed. "Cycling is the one sport that is really trying to do something about it and that's keeping it in the public eye for the wrong reasons."
A stage victory in Kent on Sunday would only emphasise the talent that the youngster has shown already this season and would be hugely popular on home soil, but Cavendish has his feet firmly on the ground
"The team has confidence in my ability at the bunch finishes but it is going to be harder than anything I have ever done before," he said. "As I said, it is a step into the unknown for me and I am not going into the race thinking I will run away with a load of results but who's to say it can't be done? To win in Canterbury would be amazing.
"My family are very excited; I think my girlfriend Melissa gets more nervous than me and she makes herself ill sometimes," laughed Cavendish. "I know they are all very proud and it makes it even more worthwhile."