News Shorts: Cavendish more relaxed than last year ahead of Tour de France

On the eve of the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish has claimed he feels more relaxed about things than he did at this stage last year.

The Manxman went into last year's Tour with a weight of expectation on his shoulders, racing on home soil at the Yorkshire Grand Départ with the chance to take the yellow jersey – thus completing his Grand Tour leader's jerseys set - on the opening day into his mother's home town of Harrogate. However, the dreams turned to nightmares as he crashed on the home straight and was forced to abandon the Tour.

This year, he does not have the same level of pressure on his shoulders.

"I feel good, very relaxed – obviously it doesn't start with a road race into Harrogate this year," Cavendish said at the teams' presentation in Utrecht on Thursday evening. "I feel a little bit more relaxed than I was then.

"The ambience at the Etixx-QuickStep dinner table is incredible. We've got a strong team here for all 21 days and we'll look to win stages throughout."

Despite the cruel memories, Cavendish paid tribute to the Yorkshire Grand Départ and added that he was impressed with the amount of people that have turned out so far in Utrecht. 

"It's the same as this is the Tour de France. Obviously it changes slightly as it moves from country to country, but in terms of the ceremony nothing could beat what Gary Verity did with Yorkshire last year. That was spectacular.

"But it's nice to see so many people out here. I think last time we started in the Netherlands in Rotterdam, Holland were playing in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and nobody was out, so it's nice to see so many out in a country that lives for cycling."

As for the question Cavendish is most frequently asked – about the green points jersey – he remained resolute in stating his focus on adding to his tally of 25 Tour stage wins.

"It's irrelevant really," he said of the changes to the way points are allocated this year. “My aim for winning the green is just to win as many stages as possible."

Voeckler fears bonuses could make attacking harder

If Thomas Voeckler is known for anything it's the strange faces he pulls when he's riding and his propensity to go on the attack. With his Europcar team potentially folding at the end of the season, as their named sponsor is set to leave the sport, the need to go on the attack at the Tour de France is higher than ever.

However, Voeckler fears that the re-introduction of bonus seconds at the finish could make his job a lot harder. "It will be a tense start to the race, very stressful. The time bonuses at the finishes will also change things," Voeckler said after the Tour de France team presentation in Utrecht on Thursday evening.

"That maybe doesn't mean much to the public, but for riders like me, who want to go on the attack, that could scupper the chances of a break staying away. When there were no bonuses, you could have two races at the same time – one for the stage win and the other for GC. But this time, the leaders are going to race for stage victory to pick up seconds and that changes a lot of things."

Westra extends with Astana

On the eve of the Tour de France, Astana have announced that they’ve secured the services of Lieuwe Westra for a further two seasons. Westra, who joined the team last year, has signed a two-year extension to his contract so that he will stay with the team until 2017.

"I am very happy to sign a 2-year contract extension here before the Tour de France start in Utrecht - The reason I came to Astana in the first place was to help Vincenzo in the Tour, and last year we did that," said Westra in a team press release. "The next two years of my career will be important steps for me, and it makes me very happy to stay with Astana and see the future."

Westra was part of Astana's Tour winning team last season and will take to the start line this Saturday in his native Netherlands, as he hopes to deliver Vincenzo Nibali to his second Tour de France title.

"Lieuwe took two World Tour victories in his first season with us, and was the key rider at the Tour de France last year on the cobbles in the rain - We are a strong team and with Lieuwe we are even stronger for the next two years," said team manager Alexander Vinokourov. "Astana Pro Team has confidence in Westra for the Tour de France in 2015 and we are happy to sign a contract with him to stay in the team for two more years."

Teams prepare for the Tour of Austria on Saturday

As the world focuses with anticipation for the Grand Départ in Utrecht, the Tour of Austria prepares for its 67th edition starting on the same day. Fielding eight-man squads, teams ready themselves for what will be a grueling nine-day stage race of their own.

Six WorldTour teams along with seven ProContinental teams will make up the professional peloton opening with a team time trial. The parcours includes numerous punchy climbs, including two mountain top finishes, before the roads flatten out again for the sprinters heading into the finale.

Prologue – Ringstraße – 5.4km (TTT)

Stage 1 - Mörbischer Festspiele to Scheibbs - 207km

Stage 2 - Litschau to Grieskirchen - 126km

Stage 3 - Windischgarsten to Gratwein/Straßengel - 185km

Stage 4 - Gratwein Stift Rein to Villacher Alpenstraße/Dobratsch - 205km

Stage 5 - Villach/Drobollach to Matrei in Osttirol - 180km

Stage 6 - Lienz - Kitzbüheler Horn Alpenhaus -169km

Stage 7 - Kitzbühel to Innsbruck - 139km

Stage 8 - Innsbruck-Völs to Bregenzer Festspiele -185km

Defending champion Peter Kennaugh will be racing the Tour de France this July in support of Chris Froome and has foregone his title defence as a result.

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