Mark Cavendish is happy to play second fiddle to Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France and describes the opportunity to support the Team Sky leader’s bid to become the first British winner of the race as an “honour”.
Speaking at his final press conference in the UK before heading for Liege, Belgium, and Saturday’s start of the Tour, Cavendish underlined his intention to target stage wins, rather than the green jersey at this year’s race.
While Cavendish has enjoyed the full support of his former team, HTC-Highroad, in previous Tours, the world champion is under no illusions as to Team Sky’s primary goal in 2012.
“To be part of a team which goes in with a real ambition to win the Tour de France overall is an honour for any bike rider,” said Cavendish. “With Bradley we’ve got the biggest chance we’ll ever have to do that and, as a British rider on a British team, it’s exciting to go into the race with that ambition.
“I haven’t got my eyes on green to be honest, but there’s always a chance obviously. With the new green jersey competition, stage wins are enough to win it. You have to go for the intermediate but whether you go to limit your losses or flat out, is a tactic you have to look at.”
Cavendish describes his form as “really good” having finished the Giro d’Italia, after which he completed a training block of “repetitive climbing” in Italy before claiming his first overall stage race victory on his return to action at the Ster ZLM Toer earlier this month.
That result, during which Cavendish defended the yellow jersey on a stage which included some of the Ardennes Forest’s toughest climbs, served as an indicator of new-found climbing pedigree.
The Manx Missile has lost 4kg in weight and has made improving his climbing his focus in training and racing so far this year, motivated by the need to stay at the front of the race over nine laps of Box Hill during the Olympic road race.
“I’ve been working harder on the climbs,” added Cavendish. “I’ve got other goals away from the Tour de France and it’s going to be a long July. I’ve not been working on my sprint, I’ve been working on everything around getting to the sprint.
“In terms of winning races, I might not absolutely dominate the sprints but I should be there or there abouts and I should be able to contest a lot more finishes than I have in the past.”
Cavendish has been an outspoken critic of British Cycling’s scientific training methods in the past but, having joined Team Sky, has worked closely with coach Rod Ellingworth and sports scientist Tim Kerrison, the man credited with Wiggins’ surge in form, and now believes he is reaping the rewards ahead of the biggest month of his career.
“I was never a big fan of the scientific approach in the past but I’ve come to realise, after working with Tim and Rod at Team Sky, that it wasn’t the methods I didn’t like, it was the way they were put to me by a scientist who’s never ridden a bike but who thinks they know more than me.”
The ability to contest sprint finishes on testing, undulating routes will also present Cavendish with the opportunity to win stages at this year’s Tour which would previously have previously fallen outside his remit.
Stages one and three both end with an uphill finish which, while normally best-suited to riders in the mould of Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), could see Cavendish come to the fore.
“It should give me a lot more opportunities to win. Instead of having the usual seven sprint days in the Tour de France I’ve got a couple more, and a lot of the sprint days this year have got climbs 20km from the finish.
“With the other leadout trains getting stronger, maybe I won’t have enough on flat-out boulevard sprints but I’ll be able to contest more sprints than I have before.
“I’ve lost a bit of power but there’s no point having power if you can’t get to the finish.”
The Tour is, of course, only one of Cavendish goals in July and the 27-year-old will fly out from France to London straight after the final stage. “There will be no party in Paris,” said Cavendish.
That party will have to wait for July 28 when Great Britain could be celebrating its first Tour de France champion and the first gold medal of the Olympic Games.
Pictures by Roz Jones, On The Road Cycling Tours