Top cycling commentator Phil Liggett may have been joking when he said the three legs on the Isle of Man flag would come in handy for Mark Cavendish in Plumelec at the Tour de France.
The British sprinter, whose rocketing reputation as one of the world’s fastest men on two wheels has been boosted by two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, would argue that two will do just fine.
To look at, Cavendish doesn’t appear superhuman. But the curly-haired 22-year-old Manxman oozes a quiet confidence that has forced all the established names to take note since he blazed his way into the ranks with 11 pro victories last year.
Australia’s Robbie McEwen, arguably one of the fastest sprinters on the planet, has won 12 stages on the Tour de France and the points competition’s green jersey three times.
Cavendish’s brash, no-nonsense style – and stunning top end speed at the end of hectic bunch sprints – inevitably leads to comparisons with the 34-year-old Aussie, who has courted plenty of controversy over the years. The two are likely to brush elbows on the few flat stages put at the sprinters’ disposal this week by organisers who are keen to shake up the race hierarchy.
For now, McEwen has only positive things to say about Cavendish, but the experienced Aussie will be watching closely for signs of weakness.
“More so physically, the way he sprints he does remind me a lot of me,” McEwen told AFP.
Asked what makes Cavendish so fast, McEwen said it is simple. “He’s got the genes. Obviously you’ve got to know how to ride a bike, and make it go up to just over 70km an hour.”
Cavendish last month became the first Briton since Scotland’s Robert Millar to win a stage at the Giro. The Manxman, in fact, won two and could have made it three if he hadn’t gifted a stage to team mate Andre Greipel as a way of saying thanks for his support in the race.
McEwen will be interested to see how Cavendish deals with having completed the Giro.
“It’s hard to know as a young guy how you’re going to recover,” added McEwen. “It’s possible to come here and be great over the first five or six days, and then just lose all your form.”
Cavendish, who failed to finish the Tour on his debut last year, has been bullish about his intentions for a first stage win here. With a newly-named team that has three top sprinters able to work for him, he says the confidence is flying.
“After the Giro, mentally I’m a lot more confident than I was. I know it’s hard for me to get any more confident, but the fact I have such a strong team behind me just gives me that little bit extra,” he said. “Obviously there’s a big difference it being the Tour – on every other race you’ve got a lot of good guys there, but in the Tour you’ve got every top guy in the world there.
“They’re all on good form. All the sprinters have shared out some good wins this year, so it’s going to be really tough.”
The icing on the cake for Cavendish would be to finish the Tour, in a bid to maintain form ahead of his bid to win the Madison title on the track at the Beijing Olympics.
“The Madison is over 50 km, it’s a one hour race, so what better preparation than 21 days of four, five, six hours? If I’m too tired then I won’t be able to finish (the Tour) anyway. But I’ve recovered well from the Giro and come out with good form. We’ll just take every day as it comes.”
© AFP 2008…