When Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) won the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California on Monday he moved back to the top of the 2015 victory list, equalling Norwegian Alexander Kristoff‘s tally of 11 wins.
Cavendish’s 11 victories so far this season have been spread evenly throughout the year, starting with a stage victory in the Tour de San Luis in Argentina in January, then followed by two stages and the overall classification in the Dubai Tour, the Clasica de Almeria, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, three Tour of Turkey stages and now two in California. And that’s despite an illness in March.
South America, North America, the Middle East, Turkey, Belgium and Spain: no matter the nation or continent, Cavendish has crossed the line first. As at May 12, the 29-year-old Manxman’s 2015 tally so far equals that of the entire 2014 season, with plenty of races still to contest, not least the Tour de France.
Despite Cavendish’s enviable accumulation of victories, however, you will not find his name on the UCI’s WorldTour ranking as he has yet to take a victory or score a single point in a WorldTour race this season. In contrast, Tour of Flanders winner Kristoff is third in the ranking behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Richie Porte (Sky). Of the three WorldTour races Cavendish has taken part in so far: Ghent-Wevelgem, Milan-San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico, he has failed to make a mark due to illness or mechanical problems.
Cavendish once famously said of German sprint rival and then HTC team-mate Andre Greipel: “If I wanted to get shit small wins, I’d race shit small races.” So the fact that Cavendish has yet to make an impact in professional cycling’s top-flight events in 2015 may be niggling at him.
That’s nothing compared to the niggling that Peter Sagan must be feeling – not least from Tinkoff-Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkov. It is Sagan that Cavendish narrowly beat to take the second stage in California. The Slovak champion’s high-profile and big money move to Tinkoff-Saxo from Cannondale has so far yielded only one win: stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico.
There’s still time for Sagan to take a stage or two in California, particularly when the terrain becomes more hilly and Cavendish is ruled out of the finale. Sagan has won at least one stage of the race and the points classification in every edition since 2011, and in 2012 he won five stages.
Cavendish’s big sprint rival of recent years, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) has also misfired this year. After a good start winning the People’s Choice Classic in Australia in January, a lingering illness has seen the tall German labour or drop out of a string of races and he has not won again. He was scheduled to ride in California, was was once again forced to withdraw.
Sagan, Kittel, Kristoff and Cavendish are all eyeing bigger prizes down the line: with Sagan looking to claim a fourth consecutive points classification at the Tour de France in July, and Cavendish will be hoping to make amends for crashing out of the 2014 Tour.
Cavendish was forced to painfully watch the Tour from the sidelines as Kristoff won two stages, Kittel four and Sagan the green jersey. Not only did he miss the Tour, but Cavendish ended the season without a single Grand Tour win for the first time since his debut pro season in 2007.
There’s a question mark over whether Kittel can regain condition ahead of the Tour de France, or whether he will pass sprint duties to Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix-winning team-mate John Degenkolb.
The prospect of seeing Cavendish, Sagan, Kittel/Degenkolb and Kristoff riding against each other at peak form during the 2015 Tour de France is an enticing one, and one that we have been denied so far this year.
Major sprinters’ victories so far in 2015
(as at May 12)
Mark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx-QuickStep 11
Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha 11
Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 5
Andrea Guardini (Ita) Astana 5
Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis 3
John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin 3
Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal 3
Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 3
Elia Viviani (Ita) Sky 2
Marcel Kittel (Ger) Giant-Alpecin 1
Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida 1
Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Saxo 1