Fresh off the Tour of Turkey, where the Manx Missile scored three stages wins and a second place, Cavendish appears well positioned to do just that.
“It’s great to be back, and we have a strong team here from Etixx-QuickStep,” Cavendish said Friday during the pre-race press conference.
“We don’t have Tom Boonen here this year, but we’ve got a team that can win stages. I think it’s going to be difficult to go for the overall, obviously, with a sprint team but for the sprint stages we’ve got a good team, and for some of the other stages as well.”
Cavendish will be joined in California by Julian Alaphilippe, who is currently on his own hot streak, as well as Yves Lampaert, Gianni Meersman, Mark Renshaw, Matteo Trentin, Stijn Vandenbergh and Martin Velits.
Cavendish currently counts five stage wins in California, where he raced for the first time in 2008. He returned in 2009 to claim two stages, followed by a single stage win the next year. He missed the race for three years before returning in 2014 and winning the opening stage by three millimetres over Giant-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb. It was the closest-ever finish at the Tour of California.
“Yeah, but I still won the stage though,” Cavendish said when asked about the narrow margin of victory.
Cavendish also won the closing stage in Thousand Oaks last year, fighting his way back into the peloton after being dropped on the Rock Store climb. He’ll aim to pick up where he left off when stage 1 finishes in Sacramento on the same closing circuit where he won the opening stage last year. Cavendish said he expects another fast sprint on the wide boulevards of downtown Sacramento.
“You’ve got a few kilometres wind up to the finish, so you’re always going to get a real sense of who’s got a position and who’s good,” he said.
“In that final sprint you’ve got to get everything right. Hopefully we’ll do that. It’s a nice finish with a lot of people watching as well.”
Despite sometimes making it look easy, winning rarely ever is. Before Cavendish won the sprint in Sacramento last year, his team had to pull back a large group that slipped away in crosswinds on the outskirts of town.
In fact, the bunch missed out on at least two possible field sprints last year when breakaways stuck all the way to the line in Cambria, where Cavendish took the field sprint for seventh, and in Santa Barabara, where Taylor Phinney (BMC) held off the bunch that was led in by Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo). Cavendish will rely on his team to try and avoid any missed opportunities this year.
“Most of the time in cycling it’s left to me and my team to chase down the breakaways on a flat day,” he said. “[Marcel] Kittel is MIA again, so Giant aren’t going to be pulling for the sprint, so it’s going to be left up to us, and after eight days it can get to be a bit much. I think sometimes that’s when a breakaway stays away.”