Cavendish commitments leave Tour de France sprints open
Bunch sprints at this year's Tour de France are set to be more closely-fought than ever after Mark Cavendish's Olympic-aimed weight loss and Team Sky's other commitments.
The ‘Manx Missile’, winner of 20 stages in the Tour, is part of a team entirely devoted to the overall success of Bradley Wiggins, good news for his rivals as the world champion will have fewer team-mates to work for him in the final stretches.
Answering questions at his hotel in Verviers, near Liege, Cavendish, who won the points green jersey in 2011, made it clear he did not expect to be as successful as in previous years.
"I probably won't win as much in stages personally but to be part of a team with real ambitions of winning the Tour de France overall, it's an honour for any bike rider," the 27-year-old Briton said.
"My form is really good, best it's been for a few years coming into the Tour. I might not absolutely dominate the sprints but I should be there or thereabouts."
The competition will be especially tough as some other teams are pinning their main hopes on their sprinters.
Orica Greenedge, the first Australian outfit to take part in the Tour, are looking for stage wins and possibly the green jersey and have built their selection around Matt Goss, who rode previously with Cavendish in the now defunct HTC-Columbia.
"Tour de France bunch sprints are always brutal. They could be even more brutal," summed up Australian Goss, the world championship silver-medallist behind Cavendish last season.
"I heard Mark lost three kilos. But we must wait and see how and whether it affected his power.
"I learnt a lot with Mark at HTC and namely how important it is to have a strong lead-out team in the sprints because you can dictate the pace and force the others to time their sprint around yours," he added.
German Andre Greipel also teamed up with Cavendish at HTC before joining Belgium's Lotto Belisol last year. Winner of a stage in 2011, the ‘Rostock Gorilla’ has even greater ambitions this year.
"Having three men at my side is a good thing. We're a strong enough train," he said.
"There's little difference between all the sprinters. We make the difference with our team, with the positioning," he added, citing young compatriot Marcel Kittel and veteran Italian Alessandro Petacchi as the other sprinters to watch.
Petacchi beat Cavendish for the green jersey two years ago and his Lampre team will again work almost exclusively for him.
In-form Slovak Peter Sagan and Spain's Jose Joaquin Rojas are among the other contenders for the points classification.