The Dubai Tour had been billed as the renewal of the supposed rivalry between Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, and the Manxman rued his own tactical errors as he was forced to watch the German sprint away for a second stage win and the overall title on the final day.
Cavendish, who was second behind Kittel on the opening stage, found himself out of position as he came through a sharp right-hand bend in the final couple of hundred metres, and left himself with too much to do in the finale, which played out in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.
Speaking shortly after the stage, the Dimension Data rider described it as a “tactical fuck up” and explained what went wrong.
“We had the plan, it was to get on Kittel’s wheel in the last kilometre, and then lay off. We knew the last corner was tight, so if we carry more speed and get a run-up I would be alright. In fact, I did the complete opposite,” he said.
“[I] ran right up [Elia] Viviani’s wheel and I started the corner on the inside. If you take a wide angle into it you carry the speed a lot more. Yeah, it was a tactical fuckup. I came in really hot on it, had to lose too much speed.
“I couldn’t get it going – without big levers you can’t get it going again out of the corner. I just cooked myself on the acceleration out of the corner. There’s not much I could do. There’s no way, 150 to go…”
Despite the lack of a victory from the four-day trip to Dubai, Cavendish can take a lot of positives from the race, even if it’s painful to see the man who has replaced him at Etixx-QuickStep faring so well. The 26-time Tour de France stage winner has been focusing on the track over the winter in preparation for the Olympic Games this summer, and knows that his road condition will have suffered as a result.
However, the past four days have proved that he is indeed in great shape, and he claims he just put out his highest ever power since his halcyon days at the HTC Highroad set-up back in 2011.
“I’ve just looked at my power; it’s the highest power I’ve had in the road sprint since before Sky, since 2011,” he said.
“I know that the form is pretty decent. It just so happens I’m racing against, not really a standard rider, you know. Put Marcel Kittel on his own and he’s going to be difficult, but Marcel Kittel with a year’s holiday and a whole winter’s preparation, he’s very, very difficult to beat. Especially when I’ve been training for track.”
On the two occasions where Cavendish and Kittel went toe-to-toe in Dubai, it was the German who appeared to have the strongest leadout train. He had more men in the closing kilometres and they were able to lead him to victory on two occasions.
Cavendish acknowledged their strength, but insisted he was not looking on with envy at those who used to be his own teammates.
“I knew that was going to be the situation when I left Quickstep anyway,” he said. “I worked with those guys, they always did a superb job for me. If I wanted to carry on sitting there sprinting things might be different. I’m just looking for new challenges here at Dimension Data.
“The [Dimension Data] guys were actually phenomenal in the final, really came together. Natnael [Berhane] did a turn like guys who had been in a leadout for many years, so I was super super happy with that. In the end, I just let them down, I can’t fault anything on the lads. It was just a tactical fuckup for me in the last quarter.”
Cavendish now has one day off before lining up at the Tour of Qatar on Monday, where he’s hoping to build some endurance before looking at a track-specific programme in the run-up to the UCI Track World Championships in London in early March.