DÜSSELDORF, Germany (VN) — In the Tour de France over the last years, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) could be counted on for at least one stage win. Now, after battling to simply start the race Saturday in Düsseldorf, he says he would be lucky if he wins even once.
Cavendish has 30 career stage wins in the Tour and is nearing the all-time record held by cycling great Eddy Merckx with 34.
However, he sat out for three months due to glandular fever. His last race was Milano-Sanremo on March 18. Even after coming back in the Tour of Slovenia, he was thinking he might miss the Tour for the first time in 11 years.
“If you think about it, you have a month off in the winter and three months to prepare for the season. I had two months off and then seven weeks to prepare,” Cavendish said.
“I am not in ideal position, but the good thing about being a sprinter is that sometimes you can win on luck. It’s worth coming here for that as a chance as a sprinter.”
Fortunately for Cavendish, he can count on support from British champion Stephen Cummings. Norwegian TT champion Edvald Boasson Hagen is also a key player on Dimension Data’s Tour team.
“I am the most relaxed coming into the Tour as ever, when there is always external pressure for results,” Cavendish added. “I know where I am at and what I’ve done. This year, I know that I can’t say I’m going to go out to win multiple stages. I know there’s an opportunity to get a stage win — but let me stress, an opportunity.”
Counting the flat stages, Cavendish should have seven chances to win a day. His rivals are many, however, including Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), French champion Arnaud Démare (FDJ), and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
In 2016, Cavendish sprinted to four stage wins, which included wearing the yellow jersey for one day. He pushed his tally to 30 career wins. Merckx’s record came within reach. However, equalling Merckx’s 34-stage mark may have to wait until the 2018 Tour.
“That pursuit of Eddy Merckx’s record, that’s what they talked about in UK as cycling was growing. I never really pursued it. Last year, it became a realistic target. Before last year, I hadn’t thought about it,” he said.
“But yeah, this year, I’ll be happy to win a stage. I don’t think I’ll be a failure if I don’t win a stage. I know it would signal the end of my career if I only win three. I’m realistic, and so this year I’ll be happy if I only win one.”
His South African team only entered the WorldTour ranks in 2016 thanks to signing Cavendish from Quick-Step. It was a big leap ahead after the team, which supports the Qhubeka charity, raced on a wildcard invitation in 2015. That year, Cummings proved the team’s worth on Nelson Mandela day with a bold stage win.
Cummings is also returning from an early season setback. He broke his collarbone and sternum in Vuelta al Pais Vasco, but should be firing again based on his recent double-win in the British national time trial and road race. Boasson Hagen will aim for the mixed mountain stages.
“I am happy that the team selected me,” continued Cavendish. “The Tour de France is such a massive opportunity, it’s what made me and made this team grow was well. Wining with your arms up in the air is better than any commercial sponsor we have for Qhubeka charity. We are putting children on bikes, and that’s the biggest victory at all.”
“I am glad that they all stuck themselves back together to get here,” general manager Douglas Ryder added.
“At all levels, performance-wise and off the bike, these guys are big brand ambassadors, so it’s important to have them here.”