Few riders in the peloton will be happier than Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) to be back at the Tour de France. One year ago the prolific Manxman sprinter's bid to claim the maillot jaune on home soil in the opening stage in Harrogate ended with a terrible crash. Now looking for redemption, the 30-year-old says he comes to Utrecht in the same form as last year in Yorkshire.
"I missed this race a lot after the crash from last year. It's great to be here in Utrecht for the start of the 2015 Tour de France," Mark Cavendish said at the press conference on the eve of the Tour de France start in the Dutch city. The Manxman sat in the middle of the team and together with time trial specialist Tony Martin he received most attention on Friday afternoon.
"I've had this similar run-up to what I had last year before the Tour de France. I was in incredible form last year. I wanted to replicate that coming into this Tour de France so that I would be in the same condition like I was last year. I've been lucky with not being ill, or injured or anything. I'm super happy. I've done everything I can to prepare well for this Tour de France."
I'm absolutely not [caring about the points]. I just want to win stages.
Cavendish isn't mourning the absence of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), who replaced Cavendish as top sprinter in the 2014 Tour de France, winning won four stages. The Manxman swerved away from the subject of Kittel and talked about his team instead.
"There's nearly 200 riders at the start. Take any of them away and it'll increase my chances to win. We're here with Etixx-QuickStep. We've got guys who can win on all 21 stages. We're here with a super team who can win the time trial, the sprints, on the climbs and on the cobbles."
A journalist asked him if he was motivated to come level or surpass Bernard Hinault, the legendary French rider who managed to win 28 stages at the Tour de France, ranking second behind Eddy Merckx. For now Cavendish captured 25 stage wins in the Tour de France. "I'm not coming to the Tour de France to beat Hinault. [...] I'd like to add more than one stage. We want to win multiple stages but it doesn't necessarily have to be me. We want a successful Tour de France as a team," Cavendish said.
Of his sprint rivals who are in the race, he listed off four: "There are a few strong guys here. Kristoff won a lot of stages last year. He's on incredible form this year. You've got two French guys Cocquard and Démare. I also forgot Bouhanni. There's a fair few guys to get a good competition."
The 2015 Tour de France is said to be one for the climbers, leaving fewer opportunities for the pure sprinters. Cavendish agreed partly. "There are the same amount of sprints but less pure sprints. There are two or three less than normal for pure bunch sprinters. There's a few guys who can consistently finish up there in a high position," Cavendish said. He wasn't worried if there would be enough teams who wanted to control the race to get a bunch sprint. "If I'm honest it would've been a good question four years ago. There are a lot of teams who share the work. It's more the GC teams who don't really ride to save the jersey."
This year a stage winner takes time bonuses and more points for the green jersey in the first nine stages compared to other years. There are 50 points compared to 45 for the winner, and 30 compared to 35 for the runner-up in the first nine stages. That might favour Cavendish in capturing his second overall win in the points classification. He won in 2011 but since then Slovakian star Peter Sagan has taken the green jersey each year.
"I'm absolutely not [caring about the points]. I just want to win stages. It's about crossing the line first. I've always tried to cross the finish line first. It's irrelevant what points are available at the finish line," Cavendish said. Things were different for the time bonuses. A good time trial and a stage win on the second stage might put him in the yellow jersey. "Anything is possible. It's possible to win the Tour. It's not realistic but it's possible for anybody who starts. You give your best. It's a jersey I haven't worn yet. [...] I'm not going to win it [the time trial]. It'll go quite hard. Any rider here can go hard for 14 kilometres. We'll see what happens."
Mark Cavendish will leave the start podium on Saturday afternoon as 33nd rider at 14.32. He will be hoping to limit his losses and stay in contention for yellow on stage 2, bouncing back from his Harrogate nightmare.
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