Mark Cavendish’s ambition knows no bounds, but he’s also able to tell when enough is enough.

With the Alpine stage to Prato Nevoso looming, today is the right day for him to pull out of the Tour de France.

Undoubtedly, if the Olympic Games were not just around the corner he would carry on to see if he could net a fifth stage win in Montlucon or even on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

In fact, on Friday after winning in Nimes, he told Cycling Weekly that the thought of challenging for the green jersey had started to cross his mind, as had the idea of winning in Paris.

But Saturday’s stage to Digne-les-Bains brought home how tired he is after five weeks of grand tour stage racing this season. He was dropped from the bunch on the fourth-category climb 10 kilometres from the finish and crossed the line in 108th place, almost three-and-a-half minutes down.

It’s easy to forget, amid all the fuss and celebration surrounding his four stage wins, that he’s still only 23, still only in the second year of his professional career.

And it’s easy to overlook the strength-sapping effect of the official protocol that surrounds stage winners at the Tour de France. The visit to the podium, the television and radio interviews that are conducted behind the podium, all the while the rider is on his feet. Then there’s the press conference for the printed media, where at least the rider gets a chair and a bottle of water.

After that it’s the drive to the hotel and there’s time for a shower and massage before the inevitable media interviews before dinner. Some nights Cavendish would not sit down for his evening meal until gone 9.30pm.

Old school fans may not like the modern trend of pulling out of one event to avoid compromising another, but it is a necessary reality. And Cavendish’s growing legion of fans will no doubt be disappointed they won’t get to see if he could bag another one, but the time has come for cool-headed pragmatism.

There are three very hard days in the Alps to get through.

At the start of the season, the goal for Cavendish was to finish a grand tour. He did that at the Giro d’Italia and says he can already feel the improvement in terms of the strength he has gained.

It is important to recognise is that Cavendish did not quit the race on the road. He made a decision based on what his body was telling him. This week he admitted that quitting stage eight of last year’s Tour, on the extremely difficult stage to Tignes, was the biggest regret of his debut season. “I wish I had got to the finish, even if I was miles out of the time limit,” he told CW.

And his coach, Rod Ellingworth, has stressed that finishing days is the important thing at this stage of his career. “It’s easy to climb off, isn’t it,” he says. “But unless you’re injured or ill, get to the finish, even if you’re outside the time limit. Then you can rest overnight and see how you are in the morning.

“The time has come now, though. He needs to go home and chill out. Phones off, switch himself off, just spin the legs every day.

“He can win the Madison at the Olympics, so now it’s time to do everything with that in mind.

“If he’d finished up there yesterday [Saturday] and was still in with a shout for the green jersey, he’d have gone on, but he is tired. The injuries he got in that crash on the day in the Pyrenees [the stage that went over the Tourmalet to Hautacam] have taken their toll a little bit. He’s sore from that.”

Cavendish will ride three or four of the post-Tour criterium events, which will be ideal preparation for Beijing. He flies to China on August 9, ten days before the Madison race.

Cavendish has completed 70 days of racing on the road this year, as well as tapered his training for the World Championships, where he rode the points race and the Madison events. It’s been a heavy schedule for a young rider, but he thrives on racing rather than training.

And he’s been winning – 11 top-level wins on the road so far, plus the unclassified Ronde Van Made event in Holland, a one-day event with a criterium and a time trial. His 11 wins equals last year’s total for the season – and six of them are grand tour stage victories.

CAVENDISH’S 70 DAYS OF RACING IN 2008

February

Tour of California – 8 days

March

Three Days of West Flanders – 3 days

Tirreno-Adriatico – 7 days

April

Three Days of De Panne – 3 days

Ghent-Wevelgem – 1 day

Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen – 1 day

Ronde van Made – 1 day (non-ranked event in Holland)

Tour of Romandie – 5 days

May

Giro d’Italia – 21 days

June

Ster Elektrotoer – 5 days

National Championship road race – 1 day

July

Tour de France – 14 days

Total road racing days completed 70

Cavendish also rode the points race and Madison at the World Track Championships in March



TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage 15: Schleck takes lead in the Alps

Stage 14: Oscar Freire wins in Digneles Bains

Stage 13: Cavendish takes fourth win

Stage 12: Cavendish makes it three

Stage 11: Arvesen wins

Stage 10: Evans takes yellow jersey by one second

Stage nine: Ricco wins in the Pyrenees

Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse

Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage

Stage six: Ricco storms to win

Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win

Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead

Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break

Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint

Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Comment: Why Cav is right to go home today

Cavendish pulls out of the Tour

Barloworld to end cycling sponsorship

Ricco speaks on Italian television

Cavendish joins the all-time greats

Saunier Duval sack Ricco and Piepoli

Tour bosses say fight against doping continues

Ricco denies doping at the Tour

Saunier Duval pull out of Tour

Tour’s top ten changes

Ricco positive for EPO at Tour

Analysis: Tour de France rest day summary

Cavendish battles through Pyrenees

Evans suffers but takes yellow jersey [stage 10]

Analysis: Hautacam shakes up 2008 Tour

Ricco silences critics with solo attack in Pyrenees [stage nine]

Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]

Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders

David Millar: the dope controls are working

Manuel Beltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour

Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit

Doping back in Tour de France headlines

Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]

Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]

Millar to go for yellow [stage six]

Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]

Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win

Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]

Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]

Who is Romain Feillu?

Cavendish disappointed with stage two result

Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey

Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?

Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec

Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win

Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage 12

Stage 11

Stage 11

Stage 10

Stage nine

Stage eight

Stage seven

Stage six

Stage five

Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: BLOGS

Life at the Tour part three

Life at the Tour part two

Life at the Tour part one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

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