Mark Cavendish believes that the Great Britain men's team have a realistic chance of winning the rainbow jersey in Sunday's UCI Road World Championships elite men's road race. The squad are likely to be spearheaded by Olympic champion Tom Pidcock but with Ethan Hayter on form and depth within the roster, the British camp in Belgium are in a confident state of mind.
Cavendish won the road race in Copenhagen 10 years ago and while the parcours in Belgium is very different to the sprint-friendly environment in Denmark in which he excelled, the veteran sprinter could play a significant factor in Sunday's race. His reputation as an out-and-out sprinter overshadows his credentials as a solid, and crafty road racer.
"I'm feeling OK. Half the team are younger than when I won the Worlds 10 years ago and that makes me feel pretty old but it's good though. We rode recon yesterday and we're looking to put a plan into action," Cavendish told a small group of journalists on Friday afternoon.
"We've got a well-rounded team that can adapt to situations. The racing will be unpredictable, and the main thing around here will be cohesion and I feel that we've got that and hopefully it will lead to a good result. I'm here to represent my country. It's always an honour to pull on the GB jersey. It's a Classics and I think people think I just sit behind eight people and just sprint, but I can race a bike. I can adapt to situations. I ride for a Belgian team, and I've won a lot of races in Belgium."
Cavendish would not elaborate if he thought the race would be determined by a small bunch sprint and if he would be a central figure in such a scenario. The parcours lends itself to aggressive, out-of-the-saddle racing and the 34-time Tour de France stage winner recognises that the riders will determine the outcome of the race.
"It's up to everyone to adapt to the situations. It's quite a hard race to try and predict what will happen. It's not going to be down to the parcours or the wind. It's going to be down to how it's raced on the day."
When asked if his 10-year anniversary of winning the race was in some way an omen for Sunday, Cavendish gave little away but he did admit that his ten-year wait for a second green jersey at the Tour de France also came out of the blue this year.
"Before the Tour de France there was no thought about winning the green jersey but I did that ten years on. It wasn't expected and I think it's the same this weekend. I really think that GB are in with a chance for the men's elite rainbow jersey again."
Depth and options will certainly be a leading factor in determining whether the British team have a successful men's race. In the last decade, the results have been disappointing with Cavendish the only rider to come close in Qatar in 2016 when he finished second behind Peter Sagan.
Hayter and Pidcock represent the team's best options at this point but the team do have questions over the latter's form since he hasn't raced since the Vuelta a España. Those concerns were somewhat magnified by the fact that Pidcock failed to turn up for his pre-race press conference ahead of Cavendish with the Great Britain backroom staff unable to locate him.
"We've got a really strong team," Cavendish said.
"Ethan was leading the Tour of Britain for most of the race. He lost it on the last day to the out-and-out favourite for the Worlds in Wout van Aert. He's good. We don't know about Tom's form but he did a storming ride in De Brabantse Pijl and I think that with more experience he would have won more races at the start of the year. We've got strong guys. Jake Stewart is cracking on this terrain and Fred will be there. He'll put someone in a position to win and with Luke Rowe, Swift and me we've got the older guys who know their way around the roads."
Regarding Pidcock, Cavendish said, "People forget that he's still a kid. He's only in his second year as a professional and there's no doubt how good he is. He's an Olympic champion. He's a nice kid and he's good in the group. Those guys grew up together."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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