Sky's Rod Ellingworth issues warning to rival sprinters
Mark Cavendish's coach, Rod Ellingworth, said on Friday that the world champion will be "as fast as ever" at the Tour de France, contrary to Cavendish's hints that he may have sacrificed some speed in his bid for Olympic gold.
Cavendish was beaten three times in sprints en route to overall victory in the ZLM Tour a fortnight ago. This prompted some to speculate that he will struggle against German speedsters Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, both of whom defeated him in Holland.
Cavendish said at a press event earlier this week that he was in his "best form for a couple of years". He also, though, cautioned that he has "lost some power" - the price of some intense training in the hills of Tuscany after the Giro d'Italia.
Ellingworth on Friday refuted that suggestion. "He's not lost any speed. The only way we can measure that is in terms of watts - and we can see from the numbers that he's there or thereabouts," the Team Sky coach said.
"After the Giro, he did a 10-day block of intense training in Italy, and we knew he'd be tired at the ZLM Tour," Ellingworth went on. "We knew he perhaps wouldn't be at his best in the sprints there. But since then he's rested and I expect him to be back to normal in the sprints at the Tour."
Talk of Cavendish's significant weight-loss - a near physical metamorphosis - has been either greatly exaggerated or misunderstood, according to Ellingworth. He said on Friday that Cavendish currently weighs 69 kilograms, just as he did at the start of the 2009 race in which he won six stages. "The only difference is that he's a tiny bit leaner, but that's maybe just age and getting better at managing his eating."
Cavendish's finishing kick may be intact, but no one questions that he will receive less support from his team than in previous Tours. This, in turn, has fueled debate about whether the Manxman can maintain his record of winning at least four stages in every Tour since 2008. And about whether Cavendish is happy to play second fiddle to Bradley Wiggins.
Again, says Ellingworth, the concerns are misplaced.
"People think that Mark's just saying he's happy, but even in private, he keeps saying to us that we'd be mad not to go for the yellow jersey with Brad. He says that now's the time. Of course he's a bit concerned about not doing as well as in previous years, and of course it's a change for him not to be at the centre of attention, but he's right behind what we're trying to do with Brad."
Cavendish confirmed that tonight, calling Wiggins "the favourite to win the Tour de France" and the yellow jersey "the team's main objective".
His own first shot at glory may come only on stage 2 to Tournai. He declared the 2.4km climb to the finish-line in Seraing on stage 1 "too hard for me" and possibly an opportunity for his teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen.
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