Team HTC-Columbia brings a squad to this year’s Tour de France capable of winning stages of all types, team manager Bob Stapleton said Friday at a team press conference held before a packed house at the race’s headquarter in Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena.
“We’re going to grab whatever success we can,” Stapleton said. “And I believe that flexibility gives us an edge.”
Though the team’s star sprinter Mark Cavendish won six stages last year, HTC’s message at this Tour — which was Webcast by new partner Skype — is that the team is not expecting a similar number of wins this year from the Manx Missile, and that the team brings riders other than Cavendish that are capable of winning stages.
“It’s a success to win just one stage,” Cavendish said. “We’re here to win. That’s not necessarily just to win sprints. We have a great team, and we can win all kinds of stages.”
Another rider the team will look to for stage wins is German Tony Martin, who recently won time trials at the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour of Switzerland. Martin is one of the only riders is expected to challenge world TT champion Fabian Cancellara during Saturday’s 9km prologue.
“It’s the first real highlight in this year’s Tour de France,” Martin said. “The prologue is a big goal. There’s pressure from my team, and pressure for myself. I expect a big result. I hope I can do something tomorrow.”
A high placing in the prologue would also land Martin in the white best young rider’s jersey, which he hopes to take from Andy Schleck’s shoulders this year.
As is customary for High Road team events, the press conference started off with a snazzy video featuring the success of the HTC men’s and women’s teams as well as highlighting its component sponsors. In what has also become a tradition with the team, television commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen emceed the event.
Cav’ on a quest
Before the riders were introduced, Stapleton announced new technology partnerships with Google and Skype, as well as a new Scott prototype bike, the Project F01, its most aerodynamic road bike to date.
Rolling out on an F01, Cavendish was the first rider to take the stage. After admitting that it wasn’t realistic to expect to win six stages again, Cavendish stressed that now that he’s proven he can make it to Paris, chasing the green points jersey would be a top priority.
In 2009 Cavendish swapped the points jersey with Thor Hushovd through the first 13 stages before he was relegated for an irregular sprint on stage 14, when race officials felt he’d ridden Hushovd into the barriers. That relegation, to the back of the field, cost Cavendish valuable points that prevented him from taking green on his first complete Tour.
In his quest for stage wins and the points jersey, Cavendish will again look to Mark Renshaw as his key lead-out man. Replacing George Hincapie as second-to-last on the lead-out train is Austrian Bernhard Eisel. Cavendish said he would first take aim at winning stages one, four and five.
“Mark wants to show people he’s as good as he says he is,” Stapleton said. “I think he feels like he has something to prove. And with Mark, that’s a good motivator.”
Cavendish said he’d recovered well from the high-speed crash at the Tour of Switzerland that many blamed him for causing. After Cavendish and Heinrich Haussler came together 50 meters from the line, Cavendish was first to hit the gorund, taking Haussler down with him. The resulting pile-up brought down several sprinters, and injuries from the crash prevented Haussler and Tom Boonen from starting the Tour.
Asked about a growing anti-Cavendish sentiment within the pro peloton that followed the crash, Cavendish had little to say.
“I’m here to ride the Tour, not look back on the past,” he said.
While Cavendish and Martin target stage wins, Australian Michael Rogers will look to improve on his best-ever ninth-place finish, in 2006. After dedicating himself solely to Cavendish at last year’s Tour, Rogers has enjoyed his best form in years this season, taking overall wins at Ruta del Sol and the Amgen Tour of California.
Rogers knows his first week of the Tour will be spent protecting Cavendish, but with Maxime Monfort, Kanstantin Sivtsov and fellow Aussie Adam Hansen set to help his cause, Rogers believes his time will come.
“It’s always a difficult thing to balance, having a team with goals in the sprints and green jersey and for the GC,” he said. “But I think we’ve got the mix about right. We’ve got the right people, the right attitude and we’re all good friends who want to ride hard for each other. Last year we had nine guys committed to the sprints, but this year we have to be a little bit smarter. For what we want to do here I think we brought the most balanced team we could have.”
Columbia-HTC’s 2010 Tour de France squad: Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, Bert Grabsch, Adam Hansen, Tony Martin, Maxime Monfort, Mark Renshaw, Michael Rogers and Kanstantsin Sivtsov.
Agence France Presse contributed to this report