Sitting alongside all eight of his team-mates in the Tour de France conference room on the good ship Mega Smeralda, Mark Cavendish admitted Saturday’s first stage of the Tour de France will be special for him because the yellow jersey is at stake, but said the prospect didn’t put any more pressure on him as the favourite to win it.
“At the Tour de France, whether it’s for the yellow jersey or not, a sprint stage is something we’ve got to go for. We’ve got to be 100 per cent motivated. You can’t put any more pressure on yourself because the yellow jersey is at stake because a sprint stage of the Tour de France is a big thing in itself. It’ll be nice to have but we’ll do our best and see what happens,” said the Manxman.
He added that he didn’t think the fact the race starts with what is likely to be a sprint stage will change its dynamic too much. “It’ll be the same as those recent editions that had the punchy hills at the finish. A small break will go and the teams that want to win the stage will control it.”
Cavendish said one of his biggest concerns going into the opening stage will be the added difficulty created by Corsica’s tight and twisting roads. “In truth, I think it will be quite dangerous,” he revealed. “I think it will be more dangerous than it would have been if these stages had been later in the race. The peloton’s always nervous at the start of the Tour and there are always a few crashes. But I think there could be more on the narrow roads when everybody’s fresh and going for it. I hope everybody stays safe, but there will be a lot of teams pressing.”
He also acknowledged that if he does win the opening stage and take the yellow jersey, his spell in it is likely to be brief. “A pure sprinter can hold it for maybe one day. I think they will probably lose it,” he admitted. “It will be a reduced field on the second day but still a bunch sprint, so it is possible the yellow jersey could win on the second day. But the third day is going to be for more of a puncheur-style rider, for Peter Sagan perhaps. We might see the yellow jersey change shoulders in every stage for the first week. We’ve got a strong team and we might be able to shuffle it between us.”
Before he can contemplate the prospect of the yellow jersey, Cavendish will pull on the British national champion’s jersey for the first time, and he confessed he considers the prospect a real privilege. “It will be an honour to be riding in the British champion’s jersey. I’m patriotic, I’m proud of my country, I’m proud to wear the jersey that represents it. I want to do the jersey proud as I did with the Worlds jersey and that will start with the first stage on Saturday,” he said.
Cavendish reckons seven stages are likely to finish in bunch sprints – “there may be one or two more depending on how the race goes” – and he hopes that victory in some of them will enable him to challenge for the points jersey he won in 2011. “The green jersey is a clear target, it always is. Obviously the way I get it is by winning stages,” he said. But those questions about the yellow wouldn’t go away.
How would wearing it compare with wearing the world champion’s jersey, he was asked? “As I won’t be wearing it in Paris, technically it’s not like wearing the World Championship jersey,” he said. “I’ve won the points jersey in each of the grand tours, I’ve worn the leader’s jersey in the Giro and in the Vuelta and I’m just missing the yellow jersey. It’s not just one of the most iconic symbols in cycling, it’s one of the most iconic symbols in the world of sport and I think to be able to wear that for even just a day in your life is something you dream about. It would be a beautiful thing.”
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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