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Changing around his programme in order to avoid the fatigue he believes blunted his speed during last year’s Tour de France, Mark Cavendish will today make his debut in the Presidential Tour of Turkey.
The Omega Pharma Quick Step rider flew into the country on Friday and is eager to make his mark. He hasn’t raced since finishing fifth in Milan Sanremo and lacks a little sharpness, but is nevertheless focussed on making the most of the sprinters’ stages in the days ahead.
The first of those comes today and should show him how he is going relative to his rivals.
“I was only off the bike a week,” he said, speaking about the illness which hit him after he finished fifth in Milan-Sanremo, and which saw him miss the past month of racing. “I took a break then…I was due a week off after Scheldeprijs anyway, I just had to take it early. But I have been training a few weeks now. I’m not in my top form, but I am good enough form.
“I think everybody has had something this year. I had a stomach virus, it was a bad couple of days but it is okay, it is all over now.
“I have been training well in the last couple of weeks. I am happy to be racing again, I miss racing. I am excited to get going again. I am really looking forward to getting back – I never really did it [took such a long break] in the season before. I miss racing, I love racing and I am delighted to get back to it.”
Last year Cavendish did the Giro d’Italia and continued to the end of that race, taking five stages plus the points jersey (see 2013 Giro d’Italia results here). However he then appeared short of sparkle in the Tour and had to be content with two stage wins. He was eclipsed by a dominant Marcel Kittel, who clocked up four stage wins in the race and took over the mantle as the world’s fastest sprinter.
Cavendish is fully focussed on regaining that position and wants a lighter programme to ensure that he is fresh for the Tour. Last year Kittel and Andre Greipel rode the Presidential Tour of Turkey, taking three and two stages respectively; Greipel has returned, but is unsure of his form due to a fractured collarbone suffered in Gent-Wevelgem. As for Kittel, he and his team are absent, with the German due to start – but likely not finish – the Giro.
Given Greipel’s uncertainty about his condition plus Kittel’s absence, Cavendish could come away from the race with a strong run of results. He’s taken two victories thus far this year; if things go to plan, that total could be up to five or perhaps even six wins in eight day’s time.
“I’ve heard great things about this race,” he told journalists at yesterday evening’s team presentation in the seaside resort town of Alanya. “My team-mates have come here in the past years. I was a bit tired last year in the Tour de France, but this is a good build up to the Tour de France.
“There is great weather and good roads and it is nice to be here. My mother comes to Turkey on holidays and said it is a beautiful country, so I was excited to come here and to try the race out.”
Cavendish described the Presidential Tour as having something for each type of rider. “There is a good setup here,” he stated, describing the course chosen by the organisers. “There is a different stage for everyone. There are three or four for the sprints, which is really good.
“We are targeting three stages here for the sprint but we have got guys to do the other stages as well. It will be nice. We are along the coast a lot and then we go in the mountains and finish in Istanbul. It is quite a spectacular route and I am excited to try it.”
As a rider who is highly motivated by winning – and, equally, who is very disillusioned when he doesn’t triumph – Cavendish will only consider the race a success if he is on the podium. His chances are boosted by a very strong lineup on the Omega Pharma Quick Step team, with plenty of support for him in chasing down breaks and leading him out in the sprints.
“We have brought a strong team here, but then again we have a strong team across the board this year,” he said. “Obviously [Mark] Renshaw and [Alessandro] Petacchi are the main men [for the leadout] as well as with Gert Steegmans, but Iljo [Keisse] has won a stage here and with Gianni [Meersman] and Petr [Vakoc], we have got an incredible team. I am excited to ride and to see what happens.
“The team have been very, very selective with my programme this year which is great. I am lucky that I have got the support of the group around me to travel to the different races I want to go to. I am excited to try to win some stages here.”