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Velits says Cavendish could take first Tour de France yellow jersey

Stage winner Peter Velits (HTC - Columbia) uncorks the bubbly.

Stage winner Peter Velits (HTC - Columbia) uncorks the bubbly. (Image credit: Sirotti)

HTC-Highroad’s Peter Velits has warned that his teammate Mark Cavendish should not be written off on the uphill finish to the Mont des Alouettes and so could take the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France.

Cavendish has told the press that he and his team were “not confident” about his chances on the steadily rising final kilometre (five per cent average gradient) at the end of today’s 191.5km opening stage. Consequently, he said, they would “not work to pull back breaks”.

Velits, though, told Cyclingnews that a team recce of the Alouettes finish in June may have been misleading even for Cavendish.

“In training it seemed hard but there could be a big difference when we’re racing,” Velits said. “At the speeds you ride at in the Tour, it might take a kilometre on a climb like that to lose the speed you’ve built up before. The way Cav was climbing in the Tour of Switzerland, I definitely don’t think it’s impossible that he could win.”

Third in last year’s Vuelta a España, Velits himself has had a complicated build up to the Tour. Having missed a month of racing through injury in the spring, the Slovak rider appeared to be back on track before a nasty crash at the Tour of Switzerland two weeks ago left him struggling again. Although the wounds on his left arm and leg still bear vivid testimony to the setback, on the eve of the race he said that he was “starting to feel good again”.

Cavendish hinted at the HTC pecking order when he said that Velits “wouldn’t be doing his job” if he didn’t devote himself to Tony Martin’s general classification bid at the Tour.

On Friday, Velits was diplomatic but didn’t rule out a change of tactics should he reproduce his 2010 Vuelta form.

“I think it’s normal to work for Tony,” Velits told Cyclingnews. “He’s had a really good season and mine hasn’t gone quite the way I wanted. If he’s in the front it’s normal that I will help him, and if I’m in the front I think Tony will be OK to work for me.”

Establishing a chain of command could be the least of HTC-Highroad’s worries. The team’s owner, Bob Stapleton, has admitted that their future could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t secure a title sponsorship for the 2012 season before the end of the Grande Boucle. Velits hopes that will happen.

“Of course, my manager Tony Rominger, will talk to people, but I really want to stay here,” Velits commented yesterday. “If a sponsor comes on board and they offer me a contract, I’ll sign here tomorrow. I really love it here. The atmosphere is still great,” he said.

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