Mark Cavendish insists he is not a favourite for next Sunday’s road race world championships but after polishing his form, and most importantly, working on his climbing strength at the Vuelta, he warns his rivals against writing him off.
"I'm not going into it thinking 'I'm going to win this'... but there's a chance," he told the Independent on Sunday newspaper in an interview done during the final stages of the Vuelta.
"All this month my legs have felt hard, like they're made of steel. It's like last year before I won Milan-San Remo; you just know when you've got good form, you don't do your legs any muscle damage with a hard ride, you can feel them getting stronger. And that's what's happening now.
"People forget a lot of things. I'll win what I aim to win," he said, explaining just how special the world championships and winning the rainbow jersey are to him. He has already twice won world titles on the track but wants the road race rainbow jersey.
"The Worlds has always been a big thing for me. When I was at the [Under 23] Academy, I said to Rod (Ellingworth, the road coach) that I want to be world champion. Even after taking the track championships, the rainbow jersey you get doesn't have solid bands, like the one you get in the world [road] championships. I said to Rod, at least once in my life, I want those solid bands. I need them."
Speaking his mind about the media, rival teams and the future
Cavendish has never been afraid to speak his mind in interviews and blasted a journalist for daring to accuse him of holding onto a team car in the mountains at the Tour de France.
"Are you f**king kidding me? If I go back, let alone if I'm dropped, I have two race officials, TV cameras, an ice-cream van and a marching band following me. How the f**k am I going to hold on to a car?” he asks.
He also claims that a rival team is systematically playing mind games with him by often lodging protests after sprints.
"They openly complain about every single thing and they openly admit it," Cavendish said. "I've spoken to guys in that team and say 'why do you do it?' and they said 'we've got to find a way to beat you'. That's not fair, and that's not sporting."
Cavendish’s claimed that one specific team manager "tries to f**k with me at every possible opportunity, which is ironic considering he was a sprinter and I actually looked up to him. But now I have no respect for him."
The situation has got so bad, Cavendish claimed that it's affecting the way he sprints. Though he insisted he will not play similar mind games with his rivals.
"I'm terrified of doing anything now. I can't make a move like that and it puts me at a disadvantage," he said. “I've never protested like that because I want to win sportingly and I always have done up to now."
Cavendish will ride in a Great Britain kit, adorned with a Sky logo, at the world championships. But he reaffirmed that he will ride with HTC-Columbia in 2011.
"There are rumours now, and there were rumours last year, but the thing is I'm not somebody who needs to go somewhere because of their nationality,” he said.
“Lots of Italian riders sign with Italian squads because they're Italian, French riders in French teams, British riders in British teams. I go wherever the best place is for me to be. Right now I like where I am and I'm here [at HTC-Columbia] next year."
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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.