Mark Cavendish on Monday claimed that his main goal in this year’s Tour de France was “reaching Paris, winning sprints along the way” – and not the green jersey which some pundits had imagined at the top of the Manxman’s July wish list.
Cavendish was speaking at a press conference organized to coincide with the launch of his new book, Boy Racer, due to hit bookstores on Thursday. The venue for the event was a deliberate nod to the Isle of Man sprinter’s recent exploits at the Giro d’Italia - the Little Italy restaurant on Frith Street, in the heart of London’s Soho.
Cavendish appeared tanned and relaxed after a week of a “active rest” at his training base in Quarrata near Florence in Italy. How active?
”Oh, I still did 700 kilometres on the bike…I just didn’t have the pressure of racing the Giro,” said. The Columbia-Highroad star described the reaction to his three Giro stages wins in Quarrata’s cafes and trattorias as “nuts…in a good way”.
Cavendish said that he’d so far received less feedback on early copies of Boy Racer but was prepared for opinions as forthright as his own in the coming days. Former coaches like ex-Team Great Britain track czar Simon Jones, current GB supremo David Brailsford, British peers like Geraint Jones and Bradley Wiggins – plus many team-mates and rivals on the continental road scene - are all singled out for Cavendish’s typically outspoken views.
“I’ve only heard positive things so far,” Cavendish told a gathering of around two dozen reporters. “Obviously, there’s a bit of controversy in there and there’ll be a backlash, but that won’t come straight away. It’ll come in the next few days. Everything I said, I wanted to be frank and honest, and everything in the book is relevant to my story. There’s nothing just put in there to make someone laugh or to cause trouble. It’s my side of everything.
"Sometimes it’s hard when I only have two minutes on the TV," he added. "Sometimes I come across as a bit of a tool…but if I can sit down and write something then I can express myself in a more controlled manner.”
Cavendish takes his third Giro stage of 2009
Controlled was what Cavendish remained when discussing his objectives for this year’s Tour de France. The winner of four stages last year, the 24-year-old said that he is determined to finish the Grande Boucle at the third time of asking. On his Tour debut in 2007, he pulled out on stage eight in the Alps. Last year he got nearly twice as far, quitting on stage 14.
“I want to reach Paris this year. Simple as that. I’ve said before that a big regret of my career was leaving last year,” he said. “With hindsight, I should have finished. This year I want to reach Paris and win as much as I can along the way. If I do that, I’ll be happy.
"The green jersey might come as a bonus. I don’t know… but reaching Paris with as many stages as possible is going to be my goal, whether that’s one stage win or eight stage wins..."
Cavendish nipped Haussler to win the 2009 Milan San-Remo in March
Cavendish believes that the improved endurance and climbing ability that he displayed in winning Milan-San Remo in March ought to see him all the way to the Champs Elysées.
“I feel consistently better this year. I’m no longer struggling on the longer climbs. Okay, it’s hard, and I’m never going to win mountain stages, but I’m not struggling now. That comes from a winter of total dedication on the road. In the past I’ve been racing on the track. “
He continued: “I’d love to win the green jersey but, like I always say, I’m realistic. I don’t set dreams and hope they happen. I set targets and work towards them.
"Realistically, if you aim for the green jersey you take a different view of a race," he added. "You go for intermediate sprints, which takes a bit of energy and you have to pace yourself. But I’ve always been a rider who’s all or nothing. It’s win or nothing.
"The green jersey takes a different mentality: maybe it’s better to get second twice in a row than a win. You have to change mentality and it’s too early in my career to do that. I haven’t reached Paris yet, so if I change my view on the competition and I don’t reach Paris then it’s a failure.
"This year, if I win as many stages as possible, maybe the green jersey will look after itself. If I don’t do it, I don’t do it. In future, for sure, I’ll base my Tour around it.”
Returning to his hat-trick of Giro wins, Cavendish revealed some of the secrets which may see him dominate bunch sprints again at the Tour this year. He believes that the most celebrated of those, his natural speed, gives him “a certain percentage over the other guys in terms of speed which means I don’t have to work on it at the moment, not until I’m older and I start to lose speed.”
“At the Tour de France last year, I was winning by three bike lengths. There was no need to do that,” he smiled.
He then spoke in his usual, glowing terms about his Columbia-Highroad teammates.
“The funny thing is, there’s no planning. People say, ‘what are you feeding the guys?’ This sounds stupid, but it’s love and community,” he grinned. “We’re not just team-mates doing a job. If you want to do something then you’re going to do it much better, and we as a team want to be in the best position in a sprint, or put our best climbers in the best possible position on a climb. It’s very special, what we have.”
Speaking of 'Boy Racer': here's something else for your enjoyment...