The eve of the world championships road race is perhaps hardly the time for an outgoing champion to make sweeping declarations about his future and Mark Cavendish was giving little away when he met the press in Maastricht on Saturday.
Cavendish has already admitted that he may leave Sky this winter, just one year into his contract, and speculation has been rife in the Belgian newspapers this week that Omega Pharma-QuickStep is preparing to buy out the remainder of his deal.
The Manxman was reticent when asked when he thought his team for the 2013 season would be confirmed. "It's out of my hands a little bit," Cavendish said. "I'm here to race the world championships and I'm out of the team environment right now, I'm with Great Britain."
Although the world championships course did not prove as selective as anticipated in the junior women's and under-23 road races, Cavendish reiterated that the rolling hills of Limburg was no country for sprinters. "It'll probably be a group at the finish but it's not going to be a bunch with me in it, that's for sure," he said. "There's so much more diversity in pro racing, it's a lot more aggressive than under-23 and junior women. There's only going to be forty or fifty people in the peloton the last time it hits the Cauberg, so there's not going to be a big bunch sprint tomorrow."
In spite of the parcours, Cavendish said that there was never any possibility that he might pass up on the opportunity to defend his title, citing his respect for the race and desire to play his part as a support rider one year on from his victory in Copenhagen.
"It's just a matter of respect, whether you can do it or not, to go back and defend it," he said. "I knew I couldn't win here, but I wanted to respect wearing the number one and in whatever little bit I can do to try and do my little part this time around."
Cavendish was one of four riders – along with Jonathan-Tiernan Locke, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – at the British press conference, and there were scarcely more journalists on hand to hear their thoughts. It was a far cry from the hype and expectation that followed the team's every move in Copenhagen twelve months ago, but Cavendish insisted that the mood within the camp was the same.
"It's just a bunch of lads, it doesn't really change," he said. "Even last year, we didn't really feel it [pressure], we just knew what we had to do. We don't feel any more or less pressure, we just want to go out and do the best job we can, both as individuals and as a team and see what's the best result we can get from that."
Cavendish paused when asked to recall his most memorable moment from his year as champion, before ultimately plumping for his win on the final stage of the Tour of Britain in what was his last outing in the rainbow jersey. "That was a nice way to end it, my last race in the jersey to cap off what's been a pretty successful year," he said. "It could have been better, but it was pretty successful."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.