PARIS (VN) — Mark Cavendish likes the look of the 2013 Tour de France, especially the very first day.
The mountainous Tour course revealed Wednesday is laden with heavy climbs, especially in the final week, that will make it a challenge for sprinters to arrive to Paris for the twilight finale, but the absence of an opening prologue means one thing: a shot at the yellow jersey.
Cycling’s fastest sprinter has never worn the Tour’s maillot jaune, one of the last of cycling’s most prestigious prizes that has eluded him so far in his career. With a road stage on Corsica set to open the 2013 Tour, Cavendish says it will be a shot he does not want to miss.
“I’ve been waiting and hoping for that for my whole career,” Cavendish told VeloNews. “I am quite excited that I have the opportunity of getting the yellow jersey; it’s not guarantee, but it’s an opportunity.”
When the Tour dropped the finish-line time bonuses in 2009, organizers eliminated the exciting battle for yellow that typically marked the first week of the Tour, when sprinters would chase on-course and finish-line bonuses to snatch the lead.
Without time bonuses in play, sprinters have almost no chance to win the yellow jersey. Last year, Fabian Cancellara won the opening prologue and carried the jersey all the way into the mountains.
This year’s course, however, gives Cavendish the shot he’s been waiting for.
“There are no time bonuses; we have one shot at getting the yellow jersey. It doesn’t matter if there are no bonuses. That’s the way it is,” he said. “I’ve never had a chance to go for the yellow jersey, so that will be spectacular. And the other end of the Tour, the Champs-Élysées, there is a bit of a change there; it will be at night, going around the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a little something more and it gives an incentive to get to Paris.”
The “Manx Missile” admitted it will be hard to survive to Paris, but a nighttime finale on the Champs Élysées will give him reason to suffer over Alpe d’Huez twice in one stage. It would be his fifth consecutive win on the Champs.
“You knew they were going to do something special for the 100th anniversary, and the mountains are a big part of the Tour history, so it’s a hard Tour, from the sprinter’s perspective,” he said. “It’s bookended by two beautiful stages, with plenty of other opportunities to win stages.”
Building the Omega train
Cavendish faces big changes in 2013, following his departure from Sky after a one-year run on the British team to join Omega Pharma-Quick Step. He will be reunited with sport director Brian Holm and ex-High Road teammates Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch. He said their presence made it easier for him to choose the Belgian outfit.
“I am excited for the new team. I only signed last Wednesday; we haven’t had a chance to talk much yet,” Cavendish said. “We have to go through the programs, but there are a few strong guys on the team. The team’s built around the classics, so the team’s got a lot of strong engines.”
As Cavendish said, the team is chock full of riders with big engines, but the question remains over who will be the last man to catapult him to the finish line. Mark Renshaw played that role perfectly at High Road, but the Australia is now chasing his own luck at Rabobank.
Cavendish said the question of how an Omega Pharma train would look remains to be answered.
“I will be racing with guys that I have raced with before, Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch. I am excited about that. They are some of the best leadout men in the world,” he said. When asked if Tom Boonen would be an ideal leadout man, Cavendish just smiled and said, “Maybe.”
Cavendish also said he was growing weary of answering questions about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, something he said has little relevance to today’s peloton.
“It’s the past, isn’t it? It’s frustrating that I have to answer every question about it. I’ve come into cycling because I love the sport. I am passionate about it and I defend it. People keep asking, ‘how can cycling move forward?’ Cycling has moved forward. This is what, from 10 years ago? That’s before cycling moved forward,” he said. “Things were bad 10 years ago. You’ve got to look at the facts and realize it happened a decade ago, it’s not right now.”
When asked if it was important to uncover the secrets of cycling’s past, Cavendish agreed, but he said people should remember the context of the Armstrong scandal and the efforts cycling’s made to clean up its act.
“It’s a good thing if anything bad comes out in any sport or any aspect of life, but it’s not fair to paint me with the same brush,” he said. “The name of cycling is a bad point now because of what happened 10 years ago, but cycling’s moved on.”