By Gregor Brown in Prato Nevoso
Team Columbia's Mark Cavendish has called time on his Tour de France campaign, electing not to start Sunday's 15th stage from Embrun to Prato Nevoso. Cavendish, who made it through the three-week Giro d'Italia in May, believes the Alps are too much for a young and developing rider.
"Maybe I could carry on and suffer a bit more, but I don't think there is any gain," he told Cyclingnews on the morning of the stage 15. "I don't know how I would have gone without doing the Giro, but I think in a way those climbs helped me. I realised I could get through them and suffer. I came here and I did suffer."
The Manxman leaves with a fantastic Tour under his belt, having taken four stage wins and proven beyond doubt that he is the world's faster road sprinter. He now travels home to the Isle of Man for a week-long break and will then head to Manchester to sharpen his track skills before flying out to Beijing. Despite his withdrawal, Cavendish underlined that saving himself for the Olympics was not behind his decision to leave La Grande Boucle.
"It was not a matter of hurting my Olympic chances; it was a matter of hurting my career," he said. "There are a lot of riders who have had their careers messed up just by one Tour de France and to do the Giro and the Tour is maybe the worst thing."
Cavendish will return to fight for the points competition in future Tours de France. He left the 2008 edition 63 points behind points leader Oscar Freire and insisted he would not watch the final week of the race on television.
"I spoke with my coach yesterday and he warned me it is maybe not the best thing to do. Whether I stay or whether I go, I am always going have regrets. If I go and watch the TV then I am going to have regrets that I left. The best thing to do is to go home and recover.
"I think Oscar has a good lead and he is favourite to win it. I hope [Columbia team-mate] Kim Kirchen can do something in the mountains and maybe bridge the gap, closing in on the yellow jersey. He has been really strong and I think in the Alps his tour is only just beginning, even if he has already worn the yellow."