Mark Cavendish in the spotlight

York Press: Mark Cavendish Mark Cavendish

NOT even last year's Tour de France winner Chris Froome will receive the scrutiny Mark Cavendish will face when the famous race arrives in Yorkshire this weekend but, as STEVE CARROLL learns, the super sprinter is determined to grasp a once-in-a-career opportunity.

IT has been such a familiar sight - those two muscular arms outstretched in triumph - that it is hard to see how it could be any different when the opening stage of the Tour de France climaxes in Harrogate on Saturday.

Twenty five times has Mark Cavendish experienced stage victory joy in the world's premier cycle race.

In wheel-to-wheel combat, as spokes fly on the super-charged sprint to the line, there have been few to touch the Manxman.

Yet for all that glory, part of a stellar racing CV that includes four victories in a row on the Champs Elysees, there is one notable absence.

Cavendish has never worn the famous yellow jersey of Tour de France race leader, the most coveted prize in the sport.

As Le Tour returns to England after an absence of seven years in July, and is staged in Yorkshire for the first time, that single fact alone is proving powerful motivation for the former road and track world champion.

But if any more were required, add in that the 191-kilometre opening stage ends in the hometown of his mother Adele, on a course designed for a bunch finish, and it must be a heady cocktail for one of the country's most driven sportsmen.

"If I had to choose one stage of the 21 in the Tour, that's got to be it," said the 28-year-old. "It's my mum's home town, it's designed for a sprint, I haven't yet worn the maillot jaune and I want to do it.

"I'll do everything I can to make it happen."

"I've worn the leader's jersey in the Giro d'Italia before and I have worn the leader's jersey in the Vuelta a Espana," he added. "The only one I haven't done is the Tour de France.

"It is obvious I can't win in Paris and to wear it once in my career would be special."

Ambition and achievement, of course, are two different things and Cavendish's path to this year's race has been far from smooth.

A debilitating illness rocked his early season preparation, forcing him to withdraw from a succession of high profile races and revise his planned race programme - a schedule which has helped secure huge success in the past.

While he got back on track with a couple of stage victories in the Tour of Turkey in April, and picked up win in the Tour of California, he was laid low with bronchitis late last month - forcing him to abandon plans to defend his British Cycling National Road Race Championship crown.

He is also very aware that his rivals are still closing in all around him.

Marcel Kittel is fast becoming his nemesis, claiming four wins in the 2013 Tour to Cavendish's two and ending his four-year reign as the final stage winner in Paris last year, while the German Andre Greipel, who has won five stages in the past three Tours, is hot on the heels of both.

It has forced the Briton into the gym as, at 5ft 9ins and 70kg, he bids to bulk up to match his ever growing competition.

"With the aerodynamic advancements in the bikes and the helmets now those big strong guys, like Griepel and Kittel, are getting a bigger advantage than I am, percentage-wise, compared to their body mass," he explained.

"I thought I'd better get a bit stronger because my aerodynamic ability is not going to help me as much as it used to."

It was that unique position in the saddle, crouched low on the bike, which saw Cavendish dubbed the Manx Missile and made him arguably the headline name in the sport.

Only the legendary Belgian Eddy Merckx, with 34 and the Frenchman Bernard Hinault (28) can boast more Tour de France stage wins than Cavendish.

As a member of Team Sky, he was forced to play second fiddle as Sir Bradley Wiggins swept to victory two years ago but, as the undoubted number one at Omega Pharma-QuickStep, he will be supported by a team of riders aiming to deliver him perfectly to the line.

He will not lack courage and he will need it on some of Yorkshire's narrow roads.

Kittel branded parts of the two-day Yorkshire route "very dangerous" after a recce visit with his Giant-Shimano team in April. It's a course the organisers have described as aiming to provide a "technical challenge to the peloton."

But accelerate to the finish line in Harrogate on Saturday and the flat roads, combined with a long straight line finish, appears to provide the perfect opportunity for a speed merchant.

It's been a long time coming and, for Cavendish, it is chance to make history - a chance he is determined to take.

"It provides the first sprinter's opportunity to wear the yellow jersey since the 60s," he said.

"It is an opportunity I have to grab with both hands. It is not guaranteed. There are a lot of strong contenders there but we are there with a good team and we will be fighting for that first stage."


Fact file:

1985: Born Douglas, Isle of Man, May 21.

2005: First professional victory on stage one of the Tour of Berlin. March - Wins Madison gold at Track Cycling World Championships in Los Angeles.

2006: March - Wins Melbourne Commonwealth Games scratch race gold. September - Tour of Britain points jersey winner.

2007: September - Tour of Britain prologue, stage one, points and sprints jersey winner.

2008: March - Wins Madison gold in Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester alongside Bradley Wiggins.

May - Wins on stages four and 13 of Giro d’Italia. July - Wins four stages of the Tour de France - stages five, eight, 12 and 13. August - Favourite for Olympic Madison alongside Wiggins but the pair place ninth and Cavendish returns home as the only member of GB’s track team without a medal.

2009: March - Wins 100th Milan-San Remo Classic. May - Becomes the first Briton to wear the pink jersey for the Giro d’Italia leader after squad win opening team time-trial. Wins stages nine, 11 and 13. July - Wins six stages at the Tour de France, including on the Champs Elysees, but misses out on the green jersey after he is docked points for barging rival Thor Hushovd of Norway. September - Wins first stage of the Tour of Missouri in St Louis for the 50th road win of his career.

2010: July - Wins five Tour de France stages to take career tally to 15. September - Becomes only the second Briton after Robert Millar to win stages in all three grand tours after success on stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana. Wins two more stages and claims points classification.

2011: May - Finishes second on stage two of the Giro d’Italia to take the race leader’s pink jersey after HTC-Highroad won the opening team time-trial. Wins stages 10 and 12 of the Giro d’Italia.

June 10 - Awarded MBE. July 17 - Takes fourth win for fourth successive Tour.

July 24 - Wins final stage in Paris to win the green jersey for the first time.

September 25 - Becomes first Briton to win men’s road race at the World Championships since Tommy Simpson 46 years earlier. October 11 - Joins British squad Team Sky for the 2012 season. December 22 - Named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, pictured.

2012: May - Wins three stages of the Giro d’Italia. June - Wins Ster ZLM Toer, his first general classification stage race success. July - Claims first Tour stage win as world champion and for Team Sky on stage two. Wins two more, including in Paris for a fourth time. September 16 - Wins three stages at the Tour of Britain. October 18 - Leaves Team Sky after just one season to ride for the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team.

2013: January 21 - Marks his Omega Pharma-QuickStep debut with victory on the opening stage of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. February 8 - Crowned overall winner of the Tour of Qatar. May 4 - Takes the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey for the third time in his career with victory on the opening stage in Naples and wins three more stages, including his 100th win as a professional. July - Wins two stages of the Tour de France to take career tally to 25. September - Wins three stages of the Tour of Britain.

2014: February - wins stage five of Tour of Algarve. March - Omega Pharma-QuickStep win team time-trial at Tirreno-Adriatico to put Cavendish in leader’s jersey. He also wins stage six. April - Wins opening two stages of Tour of Turkey, finishes with a total of four. May - Wins stage one and final stage of Tour of California.

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