Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) struggled to hide his disappointment after being beaten by Elia Viviani on stage 2 of the Dubai Tour but 24-hours later he was upbeat and happy after using his abundance of sprinting skills to win stage 3 to Fujairah.
Cavendish does not have a beefy lead-out train to help in the sprints or the form to drag race with Viviani in a long sprint. He showed, however, that he still has the innate ability to read a sprint in a split second and to come up with the right strategy.
When Viviani came off the wheel of lead-out man Fabio Sabatini, Cavendish waited and then accelerated past him in sight of the line. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) tried to do the same thing from Cavendish's wheel but came up just short, while Marcel Kittel’s late charge was just a little too late.
"I'm happy with that, happy to win at the Dubai Tour and happy to get the season under way,” he said after letting out a shout of satisfaction after crossing the line and then savouring his moment on the podium.
"I'm nowhere near the form I'd be in in July but I'm happy with my form for February. I had a good, strong winter and wanted to come in early season and hit the ground running.
Cavendish is never afraid to speak his mind when his teammates execute poorly in the sprints. Today he was full of praise, especially for the three young African riders in the Dimension Data squad.
"I'm really happy with how the team rode today. We had a plan to get into the front few at the roundabout with three kilometres to go, that was kind of the first finishing line. We had a full African lead-out into that and they were wicked. It was Bernie, Renshaw and I in the last three kilometres. I had to leave them in the end and do my own thing but I was happy,” he said, recalling extra detail of the sprint.
"I'd realised I can't win against Elia in a drag race, so I knew I had to leave it late and wait until he passed his peak and settled into his sprint, then do a slingshot kind of jump to pass."
Cavendish joined Viviani on the podium, with the Italian taking the overall leader’s blue jersey after Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was penalised 20 seconds for taking a long tow behind his team car after a bike problem. Cavendish knew he could have been in blue and perhaps have a shot at a second overall victory.
"It's a bit disappointing that I sat up in the sprint yesterday. I'm a bit angry with myself," he explained.
"More than I let myself down, I let my team down because technically I could have been in the leader's jersey now if I hadn't sat up yesterday. I finished fourth but I could have finished second (and taken a six-second tine bonus). I can only apologise to my teammates for that. I'll try and make up for in the other stages."
Not a comeback
This was Cavendish’s first victory since February 2017 after a difficult season hit by illness and then the crash with Peter Sagan at the Tour de France that left him with a fractured shoulder blade. He refuted any suggestion it was a comeback.
"It's my first UCI win since Abu Dhabi last year. I've already got the same amount of wins as last year…" he said with a thick dose of irony and keen to remind everyone of the serious injuries he suffered in the high-speed crash last July.
"I can still feel my bad crash from the Tour de France. My nerve passes right by where the hole is in my shoulder blade, so I get pins and needles and will for the rest of my life. That crash will affect me for the rest of my life, not only for the rest of my career,” he said.
Fortunately winning does help him look forward with optimism rather than look back with anger.
"It definitely adds confidence. Any win adds confidence for a sprinter and that's good," he said.
"There's some strong teams here. Quick-Step are as always are strong. I know, I helped build that team. Cofidis look good, Lotto Jumbo look good too. There are several strong sprint teams that mean we need our sprint ‘A-team’ to come close to matching them."
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