Cipollini thinks Cavendish is not yet in top form

Italian predicts more agony for sprinter’s rivals

The most prolific sprinter of his generation, Mario Cipollini, believes that his successor Mark Cavendish is currently operating at "not even 70 per cent of his capacity" and that "there’s trouble ahead for Cavendish’s rivals in the remaining sprints in this Tour".

Speaking to Cyclingnews at the Tour de France, where Cipollini is working as a advisor to the Katusha team, the Italian called Cavendish "the best sprinter of his epoch" - then reaffirmed his long-held opinion that the Manxman could do even better.

Cipollini won twelve stages in Tours de France in the 1990s and amassed a total of 189 victories between 1989 and 2005. With yesterday’s win in Châteauroux, Cavendish took his career tally in the Tour to 17 and in all pro races to 71.

"Cavendish is great talent, a real champion. He’s the best sprinter of his epoch, but I think he still needs to learn to manage himself," Cipollini commented in Dinan on Thursday. "At the moment, with the team he’s got, the sprints in this Tour shouldn’t even be a contest, but I don’t think his form is even 70 per cent of what it should be."

The self-styled "Lion King" elaborated: "I think it’s a cultural problem. Someone who’s grown up on the Isle of Man can’t have been steeped in cycling. Living in Tuscany is bringing him something that he probably didn’t have before. I mean, there’s a lot of interest in him, a lot of attention, the money is flowing in very easily – and I’m glad that it is – but all of this has perhaps made him lose some of his equilibrium because of that lack of cycling culture."

If this all sounded like mild criticism, Cipollini’s admiration for Cavendish was also evident.

"At 100 per cent fitness, he has no rivals," the Italian said. "He has a change of pace that no one can match. This year he hasn’t had any big injuries or crashes, which means that, if he’s only at 70 per cent, he hasn’t been training enough. That’s my opinion. He was like a little barrel when he arrived at the Giro in May and yet it only took him a week to find a level of fitness which allowed him to play with his rivals. This tells you that if he shows up to a race in form, there’s no stopping him. He has the gift of a great talent but also the curse of not being able to express it fully all of the time.

"Having said all of this," Cipollini added finally, "there’s trouble ahead for his rivals from now on in this Tour."

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