Mark Cavendish has emphatically etched his name in the annals of cycling history as one of the sport's top sprinters, but he revealed this week that he has ambitions to live a childhood dream and compete for the cobbled Classics - the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
For the upcoming season, the HTC-Highroad star said he would ride those races in support of his teammates, but hinted that down the line, he might try to add one of the races to his long list of victories.
Speaking at the team's camp in Northern California, Cavendish said he asked to add the Classics to his schedule because, after winning 15 Tour de France stages, he misses getting into the nitty gritty of racing.
"I miss that because I've been so well protected," he said. "My team does all my work for me, they're incredible guys, and I don't really have to do anything anymore. I kind of miss that - I want to be able to get involved in the racing, help someone else and get some experience in those races. I've been wanting to do that since I turned pro but I wasn't allowed."
It may sound crazy for the team to put its star sprinter in the most challenging and dangerous races of the season where the possibility of injury could ruin his chances of capturing his other goal, to win the points jersey in the Tour de France, but director Rolf Aldag is willing to take that risk to present Cavendish with the new challenges he craves.
"He went to the Tour and won 15 stages, as bad as it sounds it gets a little routine," said Aldag, explaining that having new goals is a way to keep his rider motivated. "From that point of view, it makes sense," Aldag said.
Cavendish started the Tour of Flanders for the first time in 2010, but didn't reach the finish. Aldag didn't count Cavendish out of challenging for a result in the Classics, but said it would be difficult to go in with the same kind of ambitions with which he approached the 2009 Milan-San Remo.
"Do I believe he can do it on a certain level? Yes, if he wasn't good enough at all to do anything for the team, I don't think he'd want to go. If he'd just be extra baggage, he wouldn't ask for a spot in Flanders or Roubaix.
"We'll see how far he gets. He helped in 2010, maybe he gets a free role in 2011, and then we see how far he gets. With his tactical skills, and if he starts the cobbles on the front - if there's a strong headwind in Paris-Roubaix it's not easy to drop anybody there. With his strengths, maybe he's going to surprise us," Aldag said.
"I remember in 2008 when we sat down and I said I wanted to win San Remo, and even Erik [Zabel] said, 'What??'," Cavendish interjected.
While Aldag joked he would be happy if Cavendish just finished the races without any broken collarbones, the rider himself assured that he has experience on cobblestones and has the bike handling skills and, more importantly, the desire to tackle those races.
"In my neo-pro year I rode all the little races in Belgium. [I've done] Gent-Wevelgem, De Panne. I love it. I grew up on them, I raced on them as an amateur. The Classics, the Tour de France, the World Championships - that's what you grow up and want to do. And that's what I want to do.
"I think I have more chances of crashing trying to get back on in a hilly stage after I'm dropped," he said. "There's more chance of doing damage there."
Cavendish's 2010 early season preparation and race schedule was disrupted by dental problems, but a healthy Cavendish will start his 20011 campaign similarly to 2009, taking on the Tour Down Under as his first race, then heading to the Tour of Qatar, Monte Paschi Eroica and Tirreno-Adriatico before having another go at repeating his Milan-San Remo win. After that, he will decide whether to go to the Giro d'Italia or Amgen Tour of California before moving on to Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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