Mark Cavendish’s decision to start his season at the Tour Down Under in January could get Great Britain’s bid to qualify nine places in the World Championship road race off to a flying start.
The HTC-Columbia sprinter is likely to go head-to-head with his former team-mate Andre Greipel for the first time at Cancer Council Down Under Classic in Adelaide on January 16. Two days later the Tour Down Under gets underway. The German Greipel joined the Omega Pharma-Lotto team after becoming frustrated at playing second fiddle to Cavendish in the sprint stakes at HTC-Columbia.
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However, there is a greater significance to Cavendish’s appearance at the Tour Down Under than a showdown with Greipel – he will be on the look-out for ranking points.
The race favours sprinters and is the first race in the UCI World Calendar. That means there are lots of ranking points on offer. And ranking points are of critical importance to British riders in 2011 as they seek to qualify enough places to give Cavendish maximum back-up at the World Championships in Copenhagen in October.
Cavendish recently checked out the course in the Danish capital and found it much more to his liking than the one in Melbourne that hosted the recent Worlds.
If the race does come down to a sprint, Cavendish needs the full complement of eight team-mates. And to do that, Great Britain will have to finish strongly in the nations world ranking. To achieve this, Cavendish and his compatriots need to score plenty of points – as they did in 2009 when he won Milan-San Remo and Bradley Wiggins finished fourth in the Tour de France.
This year, Cavendish started his season more slowly, did not score at Milan-San Remo and only hit his full stride at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, by which time it was too late to score enough points to earn more than three places for Britain in the World Championship road race.
Cavendish has never raced at the Tour Down Under before but will go up against the likes of Greipel and Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Cervélo. Whether Cavendish wins stages or not, he is certain to be in the mix gathering what could turn out to be crucial points. A week of top three places and a good overall finish would give Cavendish as many points as a victory in Milan-San Remo.