Mark Cavendish's lead-out train is working says Brian Holm

"I think we’ve done our homework well." - Brian Holm

Mark Cavendish wins, Amgen Tour of California, Stage 1
(Image credit: Casey B. Gibson)

Omega Pharma-Quick Step sports director Brian Holm is hopeful a decision to race marquee sprinter Mark Cavendish less this year will pay dividends when the Manxman starts the Tour de France on home turf.

Cavendish has this week reconnoitered the opening stages of the 101st edition that begins in Leeds on July 5 with his desire to win the first maillot jaune of the race well known.

The 29-year-old won two stages at the recent Tour of California after a quiet spring classics campaign in which he finished fifth at Milan-San Remo before being rested in part due to illness.

Cavendish notched 96 race days last season, his highest count since turning professional in 2007, and has publicly commented it took at toll at the 100th edition of the Tour. “That was basically my idea the whole year because last year he did a lot,” Holm told Cycling Weekly. “He did a load of races last year and I always felt a bit guilty about it. He was new in the team and won from February to the Tour of Britain so he was busy the whole year and I was worrying. I thought maybe a little bit less this year, a little bit more training.”

Holm puts the increased number of race days in 2013 solely down to Cavendish’s desire to win the points jersey at the Giro, which he did. The former world champion opted instead for sunny California this season.

“Normally if it was up to me I would have pulled him out after two weeks but he really wanted to win that sprinter jersey,” Holm recalled of the 2013 Giro.

“Nobody knows that, maybe it’s bollocks to say, but let’s say it cost him a stage win at the Tour de France, or Paris, because he was too tired, he would still have done it because it was important for him to win the points jersey in all three Grand Tours.”

Cavendish has raced fairly frequently with reprised pilot Mark Renshaw as well as Alessandro Petacchi this season, which is perhaps of more value than the eight victories to his name currently.

“The more they race together the better. That’s a fact. Cav and Renshaw probably did the most races together,” Holm said.

Renshaw, after a two-year stint as a sprinter at Belkin, has fitted into a new lead-out train, the order of which is still a project in progress.

“He’s doing his job but of course with Renshaw he needs somebody ahead of him and somebody ahead of him. Renshaw is never really better than the guy ahead of him,” Holm said.

OPQS sports directors are due to meet in Belgium prior to the Criterium du Dauphine to assess Tour selection options with Gert Steegmans, Matteo Trentin and Niki Terpstra also among some of those handy in a lead-out.

“The sports directors are going to catch up, share our experiences and how it worked,” Holm said. “Then we have to see what shape they’re in when we’re heading into [the Tour of] Switzerland and the Dauphine and then we’ll make selection. It’s going to take us a few hours.”

Cavendish’s confidence was rumoured to have taken a hit after the Tour last year where he won two stages to Kittel’s four and Andre Greipel’s one.

“Being beaten for a sprinter is never funny. It was not funny last year, it’s not funny this year when he’s beaten but that’s life. You have to get over that,” said Holm.

Cavendish in his second year at OPQS has had more time to gel with teammates and there is always room for improvement in a lead-out.

“Even if Cav won five stages I would never say it was perfect because it’s never going to be,” said Holm.

“To underestimate Lotto [Belisol] or Giant, Greipel or Kittel, would be bloody stupid. We have to keep the respect of them and see how we have to do it. We have to figure out who is going to ride on the flat and so on.

“We could be boxed in the last corner, crash or puncture and forget it. You saw what happened last year in the first stage," he continued referring to the crash-marred Corsica opener.

“Our lead-out train is working. I think we’ve done our homework well.”

Twitter: @SophieSmith86

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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.