Mark Cavendish has heaped praised on Marcel Kittel and the excellent lead-out work of his Argos-Shimano team in 2013 but has warned that he and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step train will be better than ever in 2014.
Cavendish lost the final Tour de France sprint on the Champs Elysees for the first time in his career and Kittel ended the Tour with five stage wins compared to Cavendish's two.
Cavendish is still cycling's best sprinter, one season of success for Kittel does not compare to Cavendish's impressive palmares and 46 Grand Tour stage victories. The Manxman will also be working harder than ever and have Mark Renshaw back as his dedicated lead out man.
"Kittel is good," Cavendish told the BBC sportingly. "He's not just had a good year, he's good."
"But at his age  I was winning five, so I'm not that worried. I know the problems we had this year, so I'm not stressed. But it was the first time I felt really threatened, so I know I can't take things for granted anymore. I'm positive we'll dominate again."
Cavendish's pride means he sometimes reacts badly to criticism. He gives 100 per cent, and so prefers to praise his rivals when they beat him fair and square.
"You've got to give the other teams some praise," he said. "[Kittel's team] Argos worked extremely well. So don't be derogatory towards us, give them the credit. They were phenomenal. It was the best lead-out team I've seen since HTC, by quite a margin."
"(Greipel's team) Lotto think they have it drilled - they don't, they just bash people out of the way. Argos have it drilled."
Don’t forget the success of the Giro d'Italia
Reflecting on the 2013 season, Cavendish rightly points out that he was on fire in May, winning five stages at the Giro d'Italia, the red points jersey and the final stage in Brescia. He somewhat paid for finishing the Giro d'Italia come July.
"One thing we've got to talk about is the Giro d'Italia," Cavendish said during the revealing interview.
"I won five stages and the red jersey - a sprinter hasn't done that for ages."
"There was a big thing made of the Giro when Brad Wiggins was going for it, but when he dropped out everybody forgot about it. For a sprinter to win five stages and the red jersey is a big, big thing. To then go and back it up at the Tour with two more stages, that's quite good."
Cavendish's close friend, former pro rider and personal advisor Rob Hayles has hinted that Cavendish could pull back on his usual heavy race programme.
"He has always raced a lot. If you average it out across 2013, he raced every third day," Hayles points out.
"He knows he can't keep doing that, so this year we're going to load things towards the Tour: he will be racing less, training more. We will also be doing a bit more gym work, a few new stretches, some cardio stuff… to be honest, I am amazed at how well he does by just riding his bike. He could get even better, but who am I tell him?"
If Cavendish rides the Giro d'Italia, he is very unlikely to finish the three-week race because his big goal of 2014 is to win the opening stage of the Tour de France in his mother's home town Harrogate and so pull on the first yellow jersey in Yorkshire.
"Everybody who rode the Giro, let alone finished it, didn't do well at the Tour: its severity, the weather, the terrain, it killed us," Cavendish explained.
"So if I do it this year (2014), there's only a small chance of me finishing. I don't like not finishing races but I can't risk hurting my chances of getting the yellow (jersey)."
Renshaw back as lead out man
Cavendish will start his season in the Tour de San Luis in Argentina and then ride the Dubai Tour in the middle east.
"I want to win things in the build-up - and I want to do well at the whole Tour - but if there's one day I had to pick it would be that first stage in Yorkshire," he told the BBC.
Cavendish and Renshaw formed a special sprint double act, with the quiet Australian the alter-ego to Cavendish's adrenaline and ambition. After failing to emerge as a sprinter in his won right, Renshaw will be back as Cavendish's last man, with the likes of Alessandro Petacchi and Gert Steegmans also part of ant Omega Pharma-Quick Step lead out train.
"We've strengthened our sprint team a lot, which is really promising," said Cavendish, happy to have had an early Christmas present from team manager Patrick Lefevere.
"We've signed Renshaw, who we know is the best lead-out man in the world, and I've already started working with Petacchi - he's just been mind-blowing, he is so smooth. Combine those two with Gert Steegmans and Matteo Trentin, and we've got a formidable line-up. It's exciting."
"People said we didn't get our sprint train right this year. But it normally takes two years to get a sprint train right; we were getting it right within six months. It took Sky two years to build a General Classification team, and that's not as intricate as a sprint team."
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