Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Following up on his stage win on the final day of the Tour de San Luis last month, Mark Cavendish has again topped the podium in netting first on the opening day of the Dubai Tour. In doing so, the Briton is continuing his push towards what he hopes is a comeback season after the disappointments of 2014.
Cavendish had hoped to get back to his former position at the top of world sprinting in last year’s Tour de France. However he crashed heavily on the opening stage of the race. The resulting shoulder fracture put him out of the Tour and while he returned to take stages in the Tour du Poitou Charentes, the year was a quieter one than he had anticipated.
That, the emergence of Marcel Kittel as the top force in world sprinting and the fact that Cavendish will turn 30 this year mean that 2015 is a very important season for him. Clocking up two wins thus far will boost his motivation, and while he was only marginally ahead of Astana’s Andrea Guardini at the line, it will give him momentum heading into the remaining stages and in the next races.
“I’m super happy with my form and with the cohesion between Etixx – Quick-Step,” Cavendish said, reacting to the win. “We really rode strong as a team in Argentina and we rode really well as a team in Dubai today.
“All winter I was happy. At training camp it was such a strong ambiance. We knew we’d start off on a good note this season. We won more than 60 races last year, and we want to try and or better than this year. It’s not going to be a big ask, I don’t think, because we can feel the desire and motivation to go out as a unit and win.”
The stage covered 145 kilometres from Dubai International Marine Club to Union House Flag and featured a five man breakaway move. Vladimir Gusev (Skydive Dubai), Nicolas Lefrançois (Novo Nordisk), Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthCare), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani) and Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) struggled to open up a big enough lead to seriously contend for the win and, sure enough, they were easily hauled back with just over twenty kilometres to go.
From there the Etixx-QuickStep team manoeuvred Cavendish into position and set him up for win number two of this year.
“We planned our leadout to go in the last few kilometers, but it was so windy there we had to use everyone to stay in the front even in the last 20 kilometers,” he explained.
“The other teams were coming strong as always. There was only ourselves and Giant Alpecin riding on the front. As always my team rode incredibly well, and they showed confidence together. To follow Mark Renshaw is so nice. He’s so patient, he’s able to go.”
Cavendish wanted to open his gallop as late as possible due to a cross headwind at the finish line, but an early move by Sky’s Ben Swift meant that Cavendish had to jump much earlier than he wished.
“I had to go then….not out of Swift getting the jump on me so much as other sprinter might go with him and get the jump. So I went earlier than I liked, but I know I’ve good form and I was able to hold it.
“I knew I was on top of the sprint, but I felt Andrea Guardini coming faster than me. I was happy to just hold on until the line. It’s nice to win, but it’s hard to explain the feeling unless you feel it for yourself.”
Guardini snuck past Cavendish just after the finish and actually believed that he had won, but the photo showed that the Briton had taken it by a tyre width.
No matter: Cavendish is back where he believes he should be, and will build his morale and self-belief as a result.
“I like winning, there’s no secret in that. I’m happy to wear the leader’s jersey here at Dubai Tour. My friend Sir Paul Smith designed the jerseys. I saw him a week or so ago and I said I was going to bring him back one of his jerseys. I’ll dedicate my win to him today. Now we will try to get another win in the next days.”
He may not have to wait too long; stage two to Palm Jumeirah is another which could end in a mass gallop. Guardini will do what he can to get revenge, but Cavendish will be equally motivated to try to make it two in a row.
As for Kittel, he will be watching the results and be aware that the rider who is arguably his biggest rival could prove to be a bigger obstacle than before this season.