Don't Count Mark Cavendish Out, Say Tour de France Riders

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07/8/2010| 0 comments
by Reuters, with additional commentary by

Don't Count Mark Cavendish Out, Say Tour de France Riders

Briton has come up short in all three sprint stages at 2010 Tour de France.

SPA, BELGIUM - JULY 05: British rider Mark Cavendish rides along stage 2 of the Tour de France July 5, 2010 in Spa, Belgium. The 201km route with six categorised climbs travels from Brussels to the city of Spa. France's Sylvain Chavanel won the second stage, taking the overall leader's yellow jersey from Fabian Cancellara. The iconic bicycle race will include a total of 20 stages and will cover 3,642km before concluding in Paris on July 25. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Briton has come up short in all three sprint stages at 2010 Tour de France.

Mark Cavendish has yet to find his sprint legs on the Tour de France but neither his team nor rivals are prepared to write the speedy Briton off.

Cavendish, winner of four stages in 2008 and six last year, was comprehensively outsprinted by Alessandro Petacchi, 11 years his senior, on Wednesday.

However, the 36-year-old Italian, winner of the two mass sprints so far in the Tour in Brussels and Reims, believes Cavendish is far from finished.

"I'm not faster than Cavendish. Every sprint is different, every sprint is special and I have never won six sprints in the same Tour," said Petacchi, who won four in 2003.

Cavendish's HTC Columbia team still have confidence in him to make his mark with a victory on the Tour.

"The only thing I'm certain about is that Cav has not lost his talent," said former sprint ace Erik Zabel, who has been advising the Isle of Man rider for the last two seasons.

"For sure he's going to win a stage on this Tour," echoed Cavendish's Columbia team mate Mark Renshaw, who again led his sprint in the last stretch of the fourth stage on Wednesday.

However, nobody can deny that Cavendish, hampered by a dental infection which ruined his early season and forced him to change his schedule, is not as fit and confident as he was a year ago.

"We did a good job today. The only thing missing was Cav's sprint legs from last year," said German Zabel, six-times winner of the green jersey for best sprinter.

There are other things missing from Cavendish's armory - American George Hincapie, a crucial part of the Columbia train in previous years, left to join Cadel Evans' Team BMC Racing and Australian Adam Hansen, hired to fulfill this role, broke his collarbone in stage two and can no longer help.

Renshaw also pointed out that other teams had improved and Petacchi's Lampre team mates Mirko Lorenzetto and Danilo Hondo amply showed it in the Reims stage, leading the way for most of the last five kilometers.

Yet Cavendishlini also has his faults. He was the first rider to hit the canvas in the crash-ridden first stage to Brussels and could do nothing when Petacchi made his move in Reims.

"That's the life of a rider. Mark must admit that it cannot always be as good as in 2009. This will make him stronger," said Zabel.

Team Columbia manager Bob Stapleton conceded his top rider was not as strong yet as on the last Tour but promised an improvement.

"Last season, Mark won most of his races before the Tour and he did almost nothing at all afterwards. This year, we're confident he'll reach his peak form during the Tour and keep it afterwards all the way to the world championships," he told Reuters.

Cavendish won three races before the start of the Tour compared to 13 at the same stage a year ago.

Instead of making headlines for his race wins, the Manxman has hit them for more controversial reasons recently.

He was taken out of the Tour de Romandie in April for celebrating a stage victory with a two-finger salute and penalised in the Tour of Switzerland for dangerous sprinting.

"But what better motivation can you have than criticism?" asked Stapleton.

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