Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma sprint train will aim to get back on track at the five stage Tour of Algarve that starts tomorrow in Portugal. After an initial, unsuccessful outing in Dubai, the Manxman will again ride with his new lead-out men Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw.
“Mark and Alessandro are the two smartest guys in that position in the world,” Cavendish said last month in Argentina. “I have no problem in following those two guys. I don’t have to think for myself, I just have to follow. I’m in the luckiest position to have those two.”
Despite success for the team elsewhere, the Omega Pharma sprint machine is yet to reach top speed. Cavendish began in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis but worked for Tom Boonen, while at the Dubai Tour Renshaw and Petacchi couldn’t deliver a win for Cavendish as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won all three sprint stages.
Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr), and José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) will be the other sprinters to watch at Algarve.
“We are lucky that we can swap between everyone, not just those guys [Petacchi and Renshaw] and me, but we have a lot of strong guys on the team: Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Nikolas Maes…” Cavendish explained. In Portugal, he is also joined by last year’s overall winner Tony Martin, Michal Kwiatkowski, Michal Golas, Thomas De Gendt and Julien Vermote.
Renshaw teamed up with Cavendish again after two years trying to make it as a sprinter with Rabobank then Belkin. How long it will take them to reach a level of understanding they had in their pomp at HTC remains to be seen. Success in the 2013 Tour of Britain aside, Petacchi still has to find his position in a lead out train, although his experience alone is priceless. “We’d been speaking about riding for the same team for a few years,” Cavendish said. “He signed for Lampre and it wasn’t possible. When he announced his retirement; I had a phone call from Patrick and he asked what I think of Alessandro. I said, ‘F**k yeah.’ We tried to make it happen as quickly possible, convince him to come out of retirement. It didn’t take much.”
Cavendish said Petacchi slotted in immediately. They tried three times and won three times in the Tour of Britain last year. “His rhythm was perfect, his vision of the peloton in the bunch is remarkable, he’s so clever,” Cavendish said. “I think he’s the only guy in cycling who tactically worked out how to beat me. He’s beat me on a number of occasions, he’s the only guy who sat and watched how I sprinted and worked out the tactics to beat me rather than just being better on the day.”
Cavendish, Petacchi and Renshaw must now perfect the lead-out before the Grand Tours start. Algarve gives them another chance before the cycling peloton switches it’s focus to the one day classics in northern Europe.