Mark Cavendish's Dubai Tour ended in frustration after he was delayed by Nacer Bouhanni's crash in the final corner of stage 5, but the Dimension Data sprinter travels to Oman for the second round of his early-season block of racing armed with the knowledge that he is laying solid foundations for the season ahead.
After landing victory on stage 3 of the Dubai Tour, Cavendish was looking to claim his second victory of the season on Saturday, but he was held up by the crash in the final kilometre. Although he managed to avoid falling, Cavendish was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid going into the stack of riders that fell after Bouhanni slipped out. Cavendish banged his left brake lever back into position as he rode through the finish area, mindful that while his day could have ended with another win, it could have also ended up much worse.
"I stopped before but I hit the barriers and it knocked my shifter. I'm not hurt, I didn't go down, I was behind the guys who went down," Cavendish explained to the media at the race.
"I don't think anyone caused the crash. Nacer lost his front wheel but it's clinkers [the road surface] and that was it… I don't think it was particularly bad, it was just one of those things."
Cavendish rarely got to sprint in 2017 after suffering from the Epstein Bar virus in the spring and then enduring the effects of the high-speed crash that ended his Tour de France prematurely and left him with a fractured shoulder blade. He is back to his old self after a solid winter and was clearly competitive in the sprints against a high-quality field of fast finishers.
The five days of racing at the Dubai Tour and the five chaotic finales presented Cavendish with five opportunities to work on the Dimension Data lead-out, study many of his biggest sprint rivals and rediscover his own sprinting instincts.
"I'm happy with where I am. The team was wicked there," Cavendish said, comparing the team's stage 5 effort to their performance earlier in the week.
"I lost Mark Renshaw with a kilometre to go. Apart from that, the team did exactly what I asked of them, which is spot on. To see the difference between the first day and today makes me very happy."
Cavendish travels to the Tour of Oman to add further racing miles to his legs and perhaps inscribe more victories on his palmares. In any case, at this point in the year, he prefers to race in the Gulf than train in the cold of the European winter.
"I'm only going to Oman to get in the workload. Abu Dhabi is a big target for me. It'd be nice to do well in Oman but we've got a climber there who will do well," he explained.
"It's just me going to Oman [from Dimension Data's Dubai Tour team – ed.] It wasn't originally on my calendar but I'll do the same workload, I'll just avoid the travelling, so I may as well stay."
Also travelling on to Oman are Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) and Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport). They will be Cavendish's biggest rivals in the six-day race, which gets underway on Tuesday. The Abu Dhabi Tour takes place from February 21-25.
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