LEEDS, England (VN) — When stage 1 finishes on Saturday, in his mother’s hometown, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) will be aiming for the missing prize in his collection, the Tour de France’s yellow jersey.
“I remember being in Harrogate and having good summer holidays here at the apartment we had. My grandma and uncle still live here,” Cavendish said to a packed room of journalists today in Leeds, just 15.5 miles away from the stage 1 finish in Harrogate.
“It’s incredible. For the second time in my career, the U.K. has the biggest bike race in the world. The first stage finishes in my mom’s hometown. It’s really exciting even if we’d like to be successful for the entire three weeks.”
Cavendish, who was born and grew up on the Isle of Man, won 25 stages in the Tour de France and has been called the race’s best sprinter ever by French newspaper L’Equipe. However, he has yet to wear the coveted GC leader’s yellow jersey which other sprinters — Erik Zabel, Mario Cipollini, and Freddy Maertens to name a few — have worn before.
Often the race begins with a prologue time trial that denies the sprinters their prize on day one. Recent rule changes in the sprint bonus seconds have also worked against Cavendish in the Tour’s early stages.
He had his chance to strike on stage 1 last year, but Orica-GreenEdge’s bus got stuck under the finish line arch, and in the nervousness and confusion that followed, several riders including Cavendish had to slow down. Rival Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the stage and, of course, the yellow jersey.
Cavendish failed to deliver on other occasions when pressure has been high. At the 2012 London Olympics, again on home ground, team Great Britain could not control the eventual escape, and Cavendish missed his chance to sprint in front of the Queen’s palace.
With other sprinters like Kittel emerging, Cavendish is getting older, and this could be one of his last chances — if not his last — to take the yellow jersey. And the opportunity might not even be that great, since the organizer planned a difficult stage for the sprinters with hills and twists in the final kilometers.
Cavendish has been firing under pressure for several years now, since his breakthrough Tour performance in 2008, and knows how to keep his cool despite the attention. Instead of talking about the possible win, the thrill of victory in his mother’s hometown, and donning cycling’s most cherished jersey, he spoke about the race as a whole and about his team that includes overall contender Michal Kwiatkowski.
“There’s always things that go right and wrong in the Tour de France, and so this stage win is not a given,” Cavendish said. “There are 200 riders here that could win, but the media attention is on me because my mom’s from Harrogate, but there are still 20 days to go after this and we’d like to finish with a successful Tour de France.”