LISIEUX, France (AFP) — Italian cycling great Mario Cipollini says Britain’s Mark Cavendish is the strongest sprinter in the world, but believes the Tour de France star still has lots to learn.
“I’ve watched him here at the Tour de France and I believe he’s the strongest sprinter in the world,” Cipollini told AFP prior to the sixth stage from Dinan to Lisieux.
“When it comes to sprints, with the kind of team he has, there’s no reason he should lose. But he needs a little bit more experience if he’s going to manage himself a little better.”
Isle of Man rider Cavendish extended his record tally of stage wins on the world’s premier cycling event to 16 on Wednesday when he won the fifth stage from Carhaix to Cap Frehel.
Yet off the bike, the Manxman continues to perplex media and team bosses alike.
After his latest stage win on Wednesday Cavendish took umbrage with a journalist who mistakenly asked him to respond to accusations from Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas that he had been victim of an elbow from Cavendish.
It later emerged that Rojas had been talking about Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, prompting Cavendish to fly into a rage and threatening the journalist with libel.
It is the latest in a long line of incidents that Cavendish’s team HTC-Highroad have had to contain.
HTC withdrew Cavendish from last year’s Tour of Romandie after he made an offensive gesture when winning the second stage.
Barely a month later at the Tour of Switzerland Cavendish attracted the ire of rivals when he spat defiantly on the ground a day after he had been accused of causing a crash which left several riders injured.
Earlier this year he showed up at the Tour Down Under, the first UCI WorldTour race of the season, visibly overweight and struggling to compete.
His sporting director Allan Peiper revealed in L’Equipe newspaper on Thursday that he had not been happy with Cavendish’s winter season and said the Manxman lacks diplomacy.
“Cavendish has a little trouble settling his life. He’s always moving around and doesn’t really have a home where he can spend the winter relaxing with the family,” said Peiper, who left his home as a 17 year old to race in Belgium.
“He lacks diplomacy and believes he is the target of conspiracy, as though he’s suffering from some kind of persecution complex.”
Cipollini won only 12 stages from 1993 to 1999 and never finished the race, retiring in 2004 two years after being crowned world champion.
Despite possessing a different kind of arrogance when he was a racer, the Italian believes that Cavendish should have more respect for himself and for the sport.
“I think the problem is cultural,” added Cipollini, now working as a consultant with the Katusha team for whom Russian sprinter Denis Galimzyanov is making his Tour de France debut.
“I’m Italian, I grew up in a place where cycling is ingrained in our heritage and culture. For example I went to see my first Tour of Italy when I was six years old, I remember seeing (Felice) Gimondi and other champions.
“Cavendish grew up on the Isle of Man. .. and I don’t think there’s much of a cycling culture there.
“He still has things to learn. Respect for himself, respect for his profession and respect for his rivals.
“With his talent I would have won 25 races (this season), and not five as he has done this year.”