Cavendish confident he is still the best sprinter in the world

Mark Cavendish had fallen into a habit of finishing second in recent times but was happy to be back to his sprinting best on stage 2 of the Abu Dhabi Tour on Friday.

The Manxman came off Elia Viviani's wheel at the right moment and had the speed and power to beat the Italian, taking the race leader's red jersey as an extra bonus.

Cavendish is the official race ambassador for the Abu Dhabi Tour but missed last year's race due to injury and finished second to Nizzolo in stage 1 on Thursday. All those factors left him happy to talk about a number of subjects post stage and gave him the swagger to believe that he is still the fastest sprinter in the professional peloton.

"I'm very happy to win here, of course, I'm ambassador to the race," he said, still proudly wearing the red leader's jersey.

"I didn't get the opportunity to race last year because of my shoulder injury, so I want to be successful this year. I got close yesterday, but wanted it today. It almost didn't work out. I was put on the train of Sky by Mark Renshaw, who did a great job in the finale despite the headwind. I'm happy he could do that and I could pay the team back with a win."

The six-rider breakaway fought hard to stay away in the finale of the 115km stage and was only caught after an intense chase along the sea front and into the final corner. Team Sky lead out the sprint but Renshaw and Cavendish teamed up perfectly to play their cards.

"I didn't know if we'd catch them to be honest," Cavendish admitted.

"We were a bit too relaxed. It was pretty chaotic in the finale and I lost Mark's wheel in the corner. I thought I was going to have to freestyle but then Mark came past me and took on Team Sky. But I knew I could try to get on Elia's wheel in the last corner and use him to slingshot past. He drifted left and left but I just surged in front of him and then held it to the line."

Fastest in the world

Cavendish reclaimed his position as the best sprinter in the peloton by winning four stages at this year's Tour de France in July before going on to show his wide range of sprinting ability by taking an Olympic silver medal on the track in the Omnium. He was also second to Peter Sagan in the World Championships despite having to fight his way past other riders close to the finish line in Doha.

Other sprinters have dominated other sprints during the season but Cavendish insisted he has never lost the self-confidence that sprinters often need to excel.

When asked if he was again the fastest sprinter in the world, Cavendish did not blink.

"I believe so. I didn't believe I wasn't before to be fair, otherwise I may be at home polishing my bike. I still believed it when I wasn't winning as much, I was still the fastest," he said.

The bias against sprinters in the WorldTour points system

Cavendish's success in the Tour de France, especially his first stage win that secured the race leader's yellow jersey was huge for the Dimension Data team. However, sprint victories in any race are worth few WorldTour ranking points and Dimension Data has finished last of the 18 WorldTour teams this year and so is fighting for its place in the 2017 WorldTour

Dropping down to Professional Continental level would be disastrous for the African team after it was encouraged to step up to WorldTour level for 2016 by the UCI.

Cavendish argued that sprint wins in any race and especially those in Grand Tours should be recognised for their true value. He also pointed out how few races on the WorldTour calendar actually suit the sprinters. He called for some redress. 

"To win a stage in the Tour is worth (the same WorldTour points) like 12th or 15th in the general classification," he said with disdain.

"But what do you do? Invest in someone who's not going to win a bike race, just sniff around the classification or try to win at the highest level? I know what the sponsors would prefer… Sadly, there's nothing we can do, it's how it is and we will see what will come of it (for 2017).

"I don't think a sprint stage should have more points than a mountain stage, a stage is a stage, but there should be more points awarded. You have maybe one one-day sprinters race now in Hamburg. Even Ghent-Wevelgem is not a sprinters race. I think it's heavily biased. Like I said, a minor, minor place in a GC is the same as a stage, it doesn't make any sense to me.

"Now the teams have to be motivated from the start to get these WorldTour points, otherwise you can be in a situation where you could be related from the WorldTour. It makes you think: Do I get ready for January (and score points) or try to win the World Championships in October. That's a bit odd in my mind."

In favour of racing in the Middle East

Some people have questioned why major races, including WorldTour races in 2017, should be held in the Middle East, with the heat and desert landscapes. Crowds are small in the UAE but the sport is growing here. Cavendish is happy to put his name to the Abu Dhabi Tour as official race ambassador and believes international races gain an opportunity to show their culture and landscape.

"Cycling's growing massively in the world. There are some places you expect to ride a bike in but you wouldn't immediately associate cycling with Abu Dhabi. But what makes cycling special around the world is what you can see and show from a bike race. There's so much history and so many landmarks here that cycling is a perfect way to showcase that," he argued.

"There wasn't a rider who didn't stop in awe when we went past the Grand Mosque. That's why the Sports Council wants the Abu Dhabi Tour. I think they've showcased the Emirate really well."

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1