Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) feels he is in great shape heading into the Tour de France, and his performance in the British road race championships in Lincoln on Sunday would certainly to attest to that.
The 2013 national champion, riding solo in a field of four Sky riders, finished second behind Peter Kennaugh after a grueling day of racing that was ignited in the crosswinds as early as 3km in.
Cavendish led over the first of eight ascents of the steep cobbled Michaelgate before doing a great deal of work to bring back the Sky escape duo of Kennaugh and Ian Stannard. Along with another Sky rider, Luke Rowe, he caught them and “tried to emulate Stannard at Het Nieuwsblad” – who won from a break of three Etixx riders – before being outpaced by Kennaugh on the final climb of Michaelgate.
“I’m super happy. I’m happy with my form and with how it went [today]. I’ve trained hard this year, the team has given me a good programme to prepare for the Tour. I’m up for it.
“This was a good hit-out, I didn’t recover as well from [the Tour de] Suisse as I hoped. I had a bigger week so I didn’t know how it would go today, but I’m glad considering. I’m happy with how I felt today so a week’s recovery now and I should be fine for the first days of the Tour de France.”
That ‘bigger week’ since Suisse was spent on the Isle of Man, where he unexpectedly got dragged into in a local handicap race. Quite what the local amateurs and juniors thought when they saw the 25-time Tour de France stage winner roll up is anyone’s guess, but he decided to get involved before riding home. And just like the nationals, it was hard racing.
“I’ve been on the Isle of Man. I’ve just been doing hit-outs, stuff behind the motor. I did a 10 on Wednesday and a handicap race on Thursday. 150k both days and then just easy Friday and Saturday.
“It was just a local handicap on the Isle of Man. I just did some motorbike work behind the scooter, ended up riding it and then behind the scooter home. A good 150k day anyway. They go hard as well, they’re Manx lads, even the juniors they don’t miss turns. You do most handicaps and guys try to sit on, even the juniors over there on their 14 sprocket, they don’t miss a turn, they go full gas.”
Cavendish returns to the Tour de France on Saturday after the heartbreak of last year, when he crashed out on the opening stage. His form so far this season, which has yielded 13 wins already, has been very encouraging, even if he was winless at the recent Tour de Suisse, a traditional Tour build-up race.
“I was going good so I was happy,” he said, before adding that it was one of the hardest stage races he had done for some time. “I haven’t done a Grand Tour for at least two years have I?”
It’s fair to say this year’s Tour route is far from sprint-friendly, but Cavendish insists he hasn’t sat down too studiously with the roadbook. He does, however, acknowledge that the Etixx-QuickStep team does not contain a true general classification contender.
“It’s a team for stages, not just for me, for stages.”
One slight cause for concern from Sunday, though it seemed innocuous enough, was a blow to his shoulder suffered when he brushed a camera as he sought the smoother surface near the pavement on the ascents of the cobbled Michaelgate. As he waited for the podium he was seen nursing a nasty graze on the left shoulder, rather than the right one that he injured at the Tour almost a year ago.
“I hurt my shoulder, I hit someone’s camera with three or four laps to go," he said. "I’m going to have to get that checked out before the Tour next week because it doesn’t feel great.
“I hit that one as well actually but not as bad. The first time on Michaelgate I hit the right one, the one I fell on, but that wasn’t too bad. Then nearer the end I hit my left shoulder, it’s grazed up.”
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