x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tour de France: Mark Cavendish is still the man to beat on the sprints

Briton targets green jersey fight with Goss, Sagan and Greipel.

Mark Cavendish is a sprint specialist.
Mark Cavendish is a sprint specialist.

PARIS // Being likened to a "time-trial helmet on a bike" is not the most flattering compliment, but it is an image Mark Cavendish's rivals will be wishing they could emulate when they set out to beat the British sprint king at the 100th Tour de France.

Cavendish, who took his tally of victories in the race to 23 in last year's edition, while with Team Sky, has since switched to the Omega-Pharma team. But the move has not made the "Manx Missile" any slower.

He won five sprint stages at the Giro d'Italia last month to take his "grand tour" tally to 41 and will line up in Corsica as the man to beat over seven sprint-friendly stages from the 21 in this year's tour.

Also, Cavendish has a chance to wear the race's coveted yellow jersey, at least for a day, for the first time. Organisers have replaced the traditional prologue/time trial opening-day start and replaced it with a stage that is likely to finish with a bunch sprint.

An opening-day win in Bastia would allow Cavendish to become leader of the world's biggest bike race, a prestigious achievement despite the fact the sprinter - who struggles in the mountains - could never hope to win the race.

"One of the big goals for Mark is to go for the yellow jersey," Omega-Pharma sports director Rolf Aldag confirmed this week.

Cavendish's two objectives will be winning stages and regaining the green jersey for the points competition, which he won in 2011 but was beaten to in 2012 by Peter Sagan.

Standing in his way will be Sagan, a big, powerful Slovakian who is fast and versatile over all kinds of terrain, Germany's Andre Greipel and the Australian Matt Goss, both of whom are sprinters like Cavendish.

However all of them, according to the retired sprinter Robbie McEwen, have a major handicap: none of them can get into the aerodynamic position which allows Cavendish to go faster than his rivals despite having to produce less power, as expressed in watts.

McEwen, who won 12 stages on the Tour de France in an era when Germany's Erik Zabel was the race's sprint king, said of Cavendish: "His body shape and the way he's positioned on the bike makes him so incredibly aerodynamic that he doesn't need to produce the same amount of power as someone like Greipel, for instance, who is putting out 1,800 watts.

"Cav can go the same speed by putting out 1,350 because he's got pretty short legs and short little arms, and it puts him into this aerodynamic position without having to contort his body. Just by reaching down into the [bars], it's pulling his head and shoulders so low. It makes him look like a time-trial helmet on a bike, and makes him really, really hard to pass, because there's no slipstream."

Cavendish's other main weapon is his train of lead-out men, which at the Tour will be composed of the German Tony Martin, the Italian Matteo Trentin and Gert Steegmans of Belgium.

On this Tour de France, the sprinter-friendly stages are on Stages 1, 5, 6, 10, 12, 13 and 21 – the last being on the Champs Elysees where Cavendish will aim for a fifth consecutive win.

Aldag added: "Mark will be able to count on the same lead-out from the Giro d'Italia. "With seven stages set up for sprinters, a team time trial and two individual time trials, the team can be prominent in half the stages in the Tour."

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