While Marcel Kittel and his Giant-Shimano teammates celebrated a hat trick of stage victories at the Dubai Tour, Mark Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team were left wondering when their bad luck will end after a series of misfortune and misunderstanding in the sprints.
The Belgian team came to Dubai ready to protect and lead out Cavendish, with strong domestiques and Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw for the final kilometre. However, Cavendish is still searching for his first victory of the 2014 season despite looking lean and on form in his white British national champion's jersey.
It is easy to jump to conclusions and think that Cavendish may have lost his luster and has been dethroned by Marcel Kittel as the king of the sprints. A analysis of the racing and sprinting during the three stages indicates otherwise.
Cavendish sat up and had accepted defeat on stage 2, finishing 30th on the windswept edge of the Palm Jumeirah resort, after his lead-out train failed to punch through a gap and take him up to the front to contest the sprint. Alessandro Petacchi admitted that he failed to set up Renshaw and Cavendish due to feeling the effects of the stomach virus that forced him to retire during stage 1 of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina.
Stage 3 indicated that Cavendish is on better form than his results show. He finished in the front group of just 39 riders that formed after the series of aggressive attacks on the climbs but his performance was overshadowed by Kittel's victory.
Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing), Petacchi, Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Andrea Guardini (Astana) were all dropped, but Cavendish managed to get back on to the front group after the climbs with Kittel. If world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Luca Paolini (Katusha) had not made late attacks, and perhaps if his teammates had looked after him better, Cavendish could have been able to move up and contest the sprint shoulder to shoulder with Kittel.
Cavendish was left fuming at the end of the final stage in central Dubai on Saturday after hitting a plastic bollard in the final kilometres. He hurt his hand and his gears and crossed the line with his chain hanging off. He could only again sportingly congratulate Kittel on his win via Twitter and reveal how unfortunate he had been.
Renshaw got the team's best result of the race by finishing second behind Kittel in the sprint. Guardini was third and Ferrari fourth.
"Little bit shaken up after the stage today. Hit a plastic road bollard with 1.5km to go," Cavendish said in a series of three tweets.
"Ripped my chain out of the rear mech & gave me a swollen hand. Can just count myself lucky. If it had been a concrete or metal one that they have in Europe, then I'd be in no position to be tweeting right now. That's for sure. Congratulation AAAAGGAAIINN to @marcelkittel & of course to my bro @taylorphinney for the GC."
Cavendish is expected to back in action and no doubt even hungrier to land his first victory of 2014 at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal from February 19-23.