Mark Cavendish improved on the third night of the Ghent Six-Day after a rocky opening couple of days.
Having just returned from a two-week holiday in the Far East, Cavendish was found wanting on the first night as he and Bradley Wiggins lost seven laps in the first Madison race.
But after another difficult Madison early on Thursday evening he discovered his track legs as the night wore on, winning an elimination race and making a major impression on the second 40-minute Madison.
Many fans had expected more of the British pair – and clearly the organiser Patrick Sercu did too. This week they are wearing the green jerseys sponsored by a Belgian insurance company, Mercator, which also happens to be one of the major sponsors of the event, its logos are everywhere.
Though not an indicator that the pair were nailed on to win, the common practice is that the biggest-paying sponsors are partnered with the teams that are most likely to be successful.
Sercu said he was disappointed in Cavendish’s form but after a long road season, and with a hectic track schedule ahead of him, a fortnight’s holiday was the least the Isle of Man youngster deserved.
Wiggins, who had his end-of-season break earlier than Cavendish, said: “Mark was suffering a bit the first couple of nights but he is improving as the week goes on. It’s a hard race to come to if you’re not feeling really good, it’s really full-on and there’s nowhere to hide. I’m trying to do my bit to give him a bit of rest but every night he’s getting better.”
And that is great news for the Great Britain track squad waiting in Australia for Wiggins and Cavendish to join up with the team. Doug Dailey, a member of Great Britain’s management team, said: “The plan was for Mark to find his legs in Ghent and then come over and hopefully do a good ride in the Madison and possibly the points race.”
Wiggins: pipped by De Fauw in the derny. Photos by Luc Claessen
Wiggins, paced by the legendary Dutchman Joop Ziljaard, was disappointed to be pipped in the first Derny race of the night by Dmitri De Fauw. Cavendish took maximum points with a very sharp piece of riding in the elimination race, sitting in third wheel before moving up to second as the field was whittled down, then launching a long-range sprint-of-two-halves in which he went, then as Kenny De Ketele closed the gap kicked hard again.
Overall they are tenth out of 13 teams, 24 laps down.
Meanwhile the race for victory is shaping up into a superb fight between Ghent favourite Iljo Keisse and Robert Bartko, and Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli.
Keisse and Bartko have 206 points to Risi and Marvulli’s 199. Although the overnight results show the Keisse-Bartko team have a one-lap lead over the Swiss, that will change as soon as Risi and Marvulli pass the 200-point mark. A ‘free lap’ is awarded for every 100 points scored.
So, going into the weekend, it couldn’t be closer.
* Meanwhile, British pair Peter Kennaugh and Adam Blythe now lie second overall in the Under-25 trophy.