Amongst the handful of fast men waiting for bunch sprint finishes at this Tour de France, Germany's Gerald Ciolek is one of the challengers of stage winner Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC). The Milram rider is back at the Grand Tour after his first participation last year, when he was still a lead-out man for the Manxman, racing with him at Columbia.
In today's stage three through the flat marshes of the Camargue region, Ciolek got trapped by the crosswind and his former team's impressive drive towards the finish on the waterfront of La Grande-Motte - but he was right up there with his former teammate on Sunday when 'Cav' took his first stage win at the Tour this year.
"Yesterday, my team rode a perfect finale for me, and I was in a really good position in the end," the former German and U23 world champion told Cyclingnews before the start of the stage in France's second capital, Marseille. "Unfortunately, I got delayed because of the crash in the last bend - and then it just wasn't enough for a better placing any more." Ciolek finished sixth in Brignoles the day before.
His good result comes after several months of setback. After winning the Trofeo Calvia in Mallorca early this year, the German wasn't his former self during quite a while. "I had a difficult season start," he admitted. "I got ill with the flu before Tirreno-Adriatico, and then just didn't get really healthy again for quite a while. So I never got up to a good level again and this overshadowed the whole spring. I just didn't have the necessary shape at the races."
Ciolek's lack of results then weighed on his confidence. But he managed to overcome his difficulties by the month of May, and now feels well. "I came out of the Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Bavaria in good shape, and therefore I think I had a good preparation for the Tour."
Even though Mark Cavendish's supremacy at the race may seem out of reach at this point, Team Milram supports its rider in the fast finishes - rightfully so, according to Ciolek, who isn't afraid to challenge the Manxman. "Mark dominated the sprints last year, and continues to do so this year. He's just really hard to beat. But nobody is unbeatable. If we continue to work as hard as we do, then we certainly have a realistic chance."