British sprint sensation Mark Cavendish hit back at claims that he racially insulted French riders at the Tour de France.
However, the 24-year-old from the Isle of Man, who bagged his fourth stage victory from this year's race Wednesday to take his total to a British record-equalling eight, admitted he can be difficult to handle.
"I love to come here (France) and I love to come here and race. For sure I'm going to get arsey at some lad - because I'm an @#*hole," said Cavendish. "But their nationality, and what they look like or where they come from is irrelevant."
Cavendish woke up on Wednesday to allegations in L'Equipe newspaper which cited anonymous French riders saying he had racially insulted them - and that his arrogance was getting on their nerves.
"Cavendish is racist, he's anti-French," said one rider. "He should be careful. We're not going to put up with his attitude much longer."
But while seemingly admitting that he can be a difficult customer - allegations in the press about his arrogant ways have prompted hot debate in the past - Cavendish refuted allegations that he was a racist.
He added: "I didn't say this. I had to laugh at that article this morning. I would have been nice to have the name of the rider who supposedly said this so that I can go and sort it out.
"I get a little hot-headed sometimes, but it's irrelevant the nationality of the rider when you get arsey at someone. When you're a rider with a public profile, you can't be friends with everybody, it's going to be like that.
"I take it as a compliment that they're going to try and start shit about something that's not about bike riding, because they've got nothing to criticise my riding about."
Another claim levelled at Cavendish was his refusal to do his share of the work in the 'grupetto', the slow bunch of non-climbers which usually works together to get through the difficult mountains stages.
On Sunday, Cavendish made sure he will make even fewer friends among his fellow strugglers in the mountains when he said he would continue sitting at the back and not taking his share of the relays.
"I'm just content to stay there," he told French television. "I have to share my energy at certain moments in the race."
Boonen desperate to challenge Cavendish
Belgium's Tom Boonen admitted he is desperate to step out of the shadow of rival Mark Cavendish after the Briton continued to dominate the Tour de France bunch sprints on Wednesday.
Boonen finished 16th and had to sprint for the line on his own after being separated from four of his QuickStep teammates, who were injured in a crash after 27km.
And with only a stage on Thursday, and possibly Saturday to come before the Tour climbs into the Alps, Boonen says he is running out of chances to shine as Cavendish dominates the sprints with the help of his Columbia team's train.
"I went into the last kilometre aiming for the back wheel of Cavendish, but it was all over pretty quickly," said the 28-year-old, who was controversially re-admitted to the race at the last minute after being initially sidelined by organisers because of a second positive test for cocaine.
"Now there are not many chances left before Paris. I have come here and I am unable to sprint."
While Cavendish's victories are usually also the work of his impressive sprint train, Boonen has had less success in that department.
"I was sprinting without a train of my own, I lost them so I had to go for it by myself. Columbia are a strong team for sure."
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar
A new book about Cavendish, Boy Racer, was published in early June.
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar