Mark Cavendish could overtake his mentor and sprint coach Erik Zabel if he wins the expected bunch sprint at the Tour de France in Bourg-les-Valence today.
Zabel won 12 stages between 1995 and 2002. Cavendish already has 12 wins in three years after taking four stages of the 2008 Tour, a massive six in 2009 and two this year.
Cavendish still has a long way to go to equal Zabel when it comes to green points jersey, however. He has a slight chance of taking his first maillot vert this year if he can score more points than main rival Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) but Zabel won six green jerseys during his career - the record for the points competition at the Tour de France.
Zabel revealed he was encouraged by the way Cavendish handled the three tough stages in the Alps and will be the first to congratulate him if he wins in Valence and moves one win ahead of the respected German former pro.
"We've talked about it and I told him that he had won enough already," joked Zabel.
"But I think if everything goes perfect for us, he'll be one ahead of me on Thursday. He needs to win in Valence if he wants to be in a position to fight for the green jersey. He needs the 35 points that are awarded to the stage winner."
Cavendish and Zabel have become very close in the last three years but Zabel also has huge respect for Thor Hushovd, particularly the manner in which he won last year's green jersey and how he has again carefully accumulated points in early sprints, often by going on the attack.
"If there's a sprinter like Mark, who was virtually unbeatable in the sprints, and you still manage to beat him to win the green jersey, then you must have done something pretty special," said Zabel of Hushovd.
"Last year Thor won his green jersey in the intermediate sprints in the mountains. I've got a lot of respect for that. So when he got in the first break on the stage to Saint Jean de Maurienne, and got the points, that was special too.
"It was a sign of his huge class. He wasn't frightened to do that and that's nice to see in a sprinter."
Cavendish tired but quietly confident
Cavendish admitted he was tired after the Alpine stages but was quietly confident about the sprint in Valence.
"It was hard, it was hard for everyone. I think even the front guys are as dead as us," he said.
"Fortunately I've got some great guys around me. I could draw you an image of Bernie Eisel's calf right now because I've seen them so much in the last few days. But it was about getting through the Alps."
"I'm concentrating on taking each days as it comes. It's really, really hard. This Tour de France hasn't settled down and it won't settle down. Valence is the first sprint day for a few days. Hopefully we can do well. We'll do our best the win."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.