After a well-publicised, less-than-ideal start to the 2010 season, Mark Cavendish is preparing to reverse his year's fortunes with another stellar performance at the Tour de France, which begins in Rotterdam this weekend.
Crashes, criticism and general calamity (including some dental work gone horribly wrong) will be forgotten if Cavendish can take the green jersey of best sprinter by race's end in Paris on July 25. And in the style to which we've become accustomed, he's not afraid to throw out some solid predictions.
"Last year I said it wouldn't be failure if it didn't come as I'd never finished the Tour; this year I know if I go in with the same plan, I should win it," he told express.co.uk. "I should have won it [last year] but I got robbed because of a race motorbike - I'm not saying which - helping a rider get away. Without that happening, I'd have got seven stage wins."
As for his season thus far, Cavendish says the opening half was never the focus; rather, the second half held the key indicators for judging his success in 2010. "I'd always said this year was all about the second half of the season and some people didn't listen... and that's what frustrates me the most: ignorance about what I said," he explained.
That frustration boiled over with his finish line celebratory salute at stage two of the Tour de Romandie in April, in which he handed out the universally-recognised 'V' sign to critics, free of charge. It had him delving into his hip pocket for the privilege however, copping a fine in excess of $5,000 and being pulled from the event by HTC-Columbia management.
"I got frustrated by the criticism, it is the hardest thing for me to handle," said Cavendish. "Normally I turn a blind eye to it."
And just when it appeared he was back on track, a crash on stage four of the Tour de Suisse where he contributed heavily to the incident added injury to the list of issues for the firebrand sprinter, whose six stage wins at last year's Tour made him the most successful British Tour de France rider ever.
"I've still got a big bruise on my side but it's not affecting my riding in any way. I've been training as usual," he explained, pointing out that he's keen to avoid any more adverse headlines once the Tour is finished - hopefully with a green jersey in his luggage.
"There won't be a late night out on the tiles like last year. The minute the Tour finishes, my focus will switch to the World Championship in September," he said. Cavendish should go in the world titles in Melbourne, Australia, as one of the favourites and knows what he has to do to live up to that tag.
And while the tag is deserved, he also realises that he can't take that lofty position as 'the world's best sprinter' for granted. "I had been living on a cloud and didn't know it," said Cavendish of life at the top after a stellar 2009 season. "It took me a long time to get up there, a lot of work and it took just a couple of things to knock me back down."
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