Mark Cavendish may have devoted a sizeable portion of his winter to training on the track in Manchester as part of his bid to earn selection for the Rio 2016 Olympics, but the Manxman has also cited the yellow jersey at the Tour de France as a target in his first season with Team Dimension Data.
“I think I’d like to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. It’s the only Grand Tour leader’s jersey I haven’t worn yet, it starts with a sprint again this year,” Cavendish said in a press conference in Manchester on Tuesday, adding: “I’d like to compete – I’d like to win – at the Olympic Games. And there’s the World Road Champs at the end of the year as well, so it’s a pretty full-on year.
“But I’ve done it before, in 2011, when I won the green jersey and the World Championships, so I think I can do it again, and I’m in a good environment to do it.”
Famously, Cavendish was the only member of the British track team not to win a medal at the Beijing Olympics, missing out in the Madison, where he was partnered by Bradley Wiggins, a memory he aims to excise in Rio.
Eight years on, the world of track cycling has changed substantially, however. With the Madison no longer on the Olympic programme, Cavendish is bidding to get the nod ahead of Ed Clancy’s as Great Britain’s representative in the Omnium, and might also be called upon as the fifth man in the team pursuit.
“It’s been different, that’s for sure,” Cavendish said of his work on the track in Manchester over the past months. “I haven’t done that kind of focused track training for ten years so it’s different to be back and track’s totally changed since I last really did it, the speeds they go and the gears they’re using. But it’s been complementing my road [training]. It’s not great weather up here but at least I can get out in the hills and that, and then I’ve been going back to the Isle of Man on weekends.”
The discipline is not the only thing that has changed in the intervening period: Cavendish will be 31 years of age by the time the Rio Olympics come around in August. “No matter what you do when you’re 30 years old your body reacts differently to when you’re 20, whether it’s on a bike or not,” Cavendish said. “That’s why I’m putting a winter [of track training] in and not just dropping in a few days before the Olympic Games.”
Cavendish raced on the track at the Revolution Series in Manchester at the weekend, and now travels to Hong Kong to participate in the next round of the World Cup as he looks to secure his Olympic berth. He was typically forthright, however, when asked to assess his prospects of immediate success.
“I’m not going to be winning the Hong Kong World Cup: if I win the Hong Kong World Cup I may as well fuck off the Olympics Games,” Cavendish said. “It’s January, you know, and the Olympic Games are in August, the Tour de France is in July. I’ve got a road season now. If I’m flying now in January, I may as well sit at home for the rest of the year.”
On the road
Cavendish will begin his road season at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race in Australia on January 31, before lining up at the Dubai Tour and Tour of Qatar in early February. Beyond the Tour de France in July and the Qatar Worlds at season’s end, there are few other certainties in his 2016 road schedule for now.
“I don’t know yet. We’ll have to see,” Cavendish said when asked if the Spring Classics were on his radar. “I’ve had a different winter to normal, so I don’t know how my form is going to be. I could have a lot of speed and no endurance, or a lot of endurance and no speed. I really don’t know. I can’t tell until I’ve raced.”
Currently third on the list of all-time stage winners at the Tour de France, two behind Bernard Hinault and six behind Eddy Merckx, Cavendish took a pragmatic line when asked if he would move up the ranking in 2016, pointing out that adding to his running tally of 26 stage wins would be a success in itself.
“I’d like to win as much as I can. Like you saw, I’m kind of laughed at if ‘only’ win three or two stages nowadays, whereas one stage would make a rider’s career. So I’m happy with whatever I can get – the Tour de France is the Tour de France and the days of six or seven sprints at the Tour de France are gone, so I have to make the most of it before sprinters are kind of extinct from cycling.”