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Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)
First sprint stage crucial to HTC-Columbia
HTC-Columbia advisor and Mark Cavendish confidant Erik Zabel believes that the Manxman's Tour de France starts in earnest today and that the dramas of the previous six months won't matter if he's able to win in Brussels.
The six-time Tour de France points classification winner told Cyclingnews during a recent interview that today's 223.5km romp to the Belgian capital will be vital to the confidence of Cavendish and the HTC-Columbia team.
"I think Cav's Tour starts on Sunday morning on the first stage from Rotterdam to Brussels - it's a perfect stage for him," said Zabel. "If everything goes well and he can be in the first group to sprint into Brussels then everything will be good.
"This first stage is so important for sprinters to have confidence in their teammates and become confident themselves. Winning the first stage would be great for us."
Zabel, who has been instrumental in Cavendish's recent rise to sprinting superstardom, explained that the drama surrounding his charge - the dental abcess and the headlines about his behaviour on and off the bike - will count for little, especially if the 'Manxman Missile' is successful early in the race.
"It doesn't matter what has happened to Cav in the last few months - now we are at the Tour and he is so motivated to ride well and do a good Tour," Zabel said.
"We have Bernie Eisel, Tony Martin, Mark Renshaw and Cav [for the sprints] and maybe Adam Hansen. These guys have to build a train over the last kilometres and I expect that a lot of teams and sprinters will have a good look at these HTC-Columbia guys and will follow them."
Many observers have been talking about Cavendish's chances in the points classification, which he failed to win during the past two editions of the Tour, despite winning four stages in 2008 and an incredible six last year. While his leadup to this edition hasn't been ideal, the goal is to remain consistent in 2010 and do what he hasn't been able to until this point in time.
"Two years ago I know that the main goal for Cavendish in the Columbia team was to win some stages and at the end he won four; then he abandoned the Tour. Last year the main goal for Cavendish was to finish in Paris and on the way try to win as many stages as possible," said Zabel.
"For 2010 the official goal at the beginning of the season for Mark and all riders involved was to win the green jersey.
"I think this is our official goal and now it's time to start the Tour and let's see if we can reach our goal. I think the team is ready, I hope Cav is ready," he continued.
"Everybody knows this first half of the season wasn't really perfect so maybe the good thing is that he's fresh in his mind and fresh in his legs... The confidence is there and they [his teammates] are motivated to help Cav.
"The question is: are we strong enough to do the same in this Tour as in last year's Tour and two years ago? That's our personal challenge - to be as good as last year, and I hope we can do it."