With the less than two weeks before the start of the Giro d'Italia Mark Cavendish is putting the final touches on his climbing legs at Tour de Romandie before heading to Italy for the first grand tour of the year. The Manxman, who has 10 individual stages to his name will be hoping to rectify a couple of the errors that occurred in the sprint train during the early parts of the season. Sports director and team trainer Tom Steels suggested that criticism after missing out on a fourth Scheldeprijs win has been enough to shake up the squad.
Cavendish hasn't exactly missed out completely this year and has delivered praise in his usual style when it has been due. He's already picked up six individual stage wins and the overall at Tour of Qatar but any podium placing is a lost opportunity and his Omega Pharma - Quick-Step team will not want to make costly errors at the Giro.
Cavendish is at Romandie having finished 165th in the opening prologue and will be without a dedicated lead-out team as the Belgian squad chase stage opportunities and the general classification. That has given a number of his usual train-mates a free pass to race at the Tour of Turkey with less pressure. This is not such a bad thing, according to Steels. Cavendish will still get his chance for victory on Stage 1 but it is yet to be seen how he copes with the difficult last hour on Stage 2. Either way, he will likely do so without too much support from his team throughout the day.
“The train can sprint in the Tour of Turkey, they will work automatically without Cavendish," said Steels to Sporza. "That's not a bad thing in itself. Without him, the pressure will be less and Mark prefers to use the Tour de Romandie as preparation for the Giro."
Steels added that the star sprinter was not pleased with the final result at Scheldeprijs after the team had done everything right all day to protect their leader for the expected bunch sprint. The high-speed final kilometres however saw the team's organisation disintegrate, leaving Cavendish isolated and too far back when Kittel opened up his sprint for a consecutive victory – after taking his first in 2012.
"I came from about 20 [places] back with 200 [metres] to go. I was too far back," Cavendish said at the finish of the 204.2km race. "The whole day we rode so well until the last kilometres."
It's this vocal expression that has lead the team to knuckle down and ensure they lift their game when they arrive at the Giro. Only a few riders have been provisionally listed for the Italian three-week race but Cavendish can expect to have plenty of support. One of the those riders reportedly charged with taking a leadership role in the Giro's hectic sprints will be Iljo Keisse, who is using the warmer climate of Turkey to build for what is expected to be a start in Italy alongside Cavendish.
“Marks criticism after the Scheldeprijs was not unfair on his teammates. He made a legitimate response and with that, he has given the team a wake-up. Iljo has made a huge step forward this season. He has that little something extra and can read the sprint very well. He is the perfect man to be the team's road captain."
Further to the reports that Cavendish could reunite with his old lead-out buddy Mark Renshaw, Steels says it's much too early to discuss and that Renshaw is not the only suitable man for the job of launching the world's quickest sprinter to the line.
"That Mark Renshaw would come next year seems premature. We could always use an extra man to pull the sprint and he may well be that rider. But there are enough guys on the market who can also do this job."