By Sophie Smith
Today at the Giro d'Italia, Mark Cavendish is aiming to secure his 100th victory
since turning professional in 2007. The Manxman made it through the Giro's early mountain stages and first summit finish with dedicated team support.
So much focus this season has been placed on the strength and weaknesses of Cavendish's sprint train at Omega Pharma-QuickStep, which he transferred to this season, that the loss of mountain chaperone Bernhard Eisel has been overlooked.
Many riders are suffering from cold symptoms and fevers after a tough opening week animated by rain and cooler temperatures, which is again forecast today.
Cavendish isn't an exception, - managing a cold since Friday - but seems better off than some of his rivals, including Australian Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), before today's 132km 12th stage from World Heritage site Longarone to Treviso.
That could be partly attributed to the support he's had in all stages throughout the race thus far.
"When I found out Bernie was staying at Sky I said to [fiancéé] Peta [Todd], ‘what I am going to do without Bernie? What am I going to do in the mountains?'," Cavendish told Cycling Weekly.
"She was like, ‘instead of having of one guy, Bernie, with you, you'll have a group of guys.' I was like, ‘fair point.'"
Eisel was an experienced workhorse in Cavendish's lead-outs at Sky, and prior to that Highroad, but also personally guided and encouraged the latter through the most gruelling of Grand Tour stages to make time limits.
"The guys have always been around me - on the flat days, on the mountains days - so it's been okay," he continued.
"The experienced guys like Gert [Steegmans] and [Jérôme] Pineau, are doing incredible, but also the guys who are new to it like Matteo [Trentin], Iljo [Keisse] and Julien Vermote. Julian hasn't left my side since the beginning of the Giro."
The 23-time Tour de France stage winner is in good shape and had enough energy in the final 500m of Saturday's 54.8km time trial to throw a bidon at a spectator who made a jibe about the crash involving Italian Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) at last year's race.
"I get it all the time! It's not even what they say it's just the fact they think they're funny in front of their friends, and they're the first person to say it," he mused. "The time trial felt okay and the Giro so far - apart from getting sick - has been pretty okay."
Cavendish has won two of the available seven flat stages thus far and plans to finish the Giro where he may mark his 100th career victory by Cycling Weekly criteria.
The 27-year-old is currently third in the points classification behind overall contender Cadel Evans (BMC) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale).
Cavendish has won the points standings once at every Grand Tour except the Giro. He wore the red jersey for a stint last week and was second - by a point - to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in 2012. However, he remains publicly modest of his chances this season.
"It's not really even for the points jersey," Cavendish said of his incentive to stay on contrary to previous years. "It would be nice to do it but I knew - when there was like four sprints - it wasn't really possible anyway. But I still want to win Grand Tour stages, still want to win stages of the Giro, and I've got a team here that is built around me, so to just f*** off after a couple of weeks it leaves a few guys out."
Should Cavendish make it to Brescia it means he will already have a Grand Tour in the legs come the Tour de France unlike key rivals Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), who are not here.
"At the minute I'm feeling good. I'll know straight away if it's going to be detrimental and if I should carry on or not," he said.
Two of the seven flat stages, on paper, fall in the final week with the last following two of the toughest high mountain runs of the race. Nevertheless the closing sprint finish is as much incentive for anyone, including Goss, to finish.
"Stage 12 is going to be the next opportunity," said Goss. "I'm also looking forward to the day after. That's probably more like the [fifth] stage that [John] Degenkolb won and I crashed in. Hopefully I can try and make the most of that small climb in the end and get over that. That suits me a little bit more.
"I'd say I probably have more of a chance at stage 13 than in stage 12. Cav is definitely quick and [Goss's chief pilot] Leigh [Howard] has gone home. Cav's still got all his guys here. I'll definitely be trying 100 per cent but stage 13 is another really good opportunity."
Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) has abandoned the Giro citing fatigue whilst Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) have been knocking at the door. Degenkolb, like Goss, is less a pure sprinter than Cavendish with some smaller teams, not present at the Tour, also pushing for the win.
"It's not fair to make out it's easy to win here, we just did everything right," Cavendish said of his two successful lead-outs last week. Steegmans suffered a mechanical in what was otherwise a well-executed finish in stage one. He demonstrated his strength as a chief pilot five days later.
Cavendish and Omega Pharma-QuickStep manager, Patrick Lefevre have been both complimentary and critical of the team's performance in the final kilometre of sprints stages early season but it seems, with the benefit of time, to be coming together in Italy. The Giro group, minus Cavendish, raced together, essentially practicing, at the Tour of Turkey in the run-up to the Grand Tour, and can concentrate fully on the latter with the Classics now done.
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Giro d'Italia 2013: Previews and race info
Giro d'Italia 2013: Coverage index
Giro d'Italia 2013: British TV schedule
Giro 2013: 10 things you need to know
Giro d'Italia 2013: The Big Preview
Giro d'Italia 2013: Stage reports
Stage 11: Navardauskas wins as favourites enjoy day off
Stage 10: Uran wins as Wiggins and Hesjedal lose time
Stage nine: Belkov takes solo win as Wiggins put under pressure
Stage eight: Dowsett wins as Nibali takes race lead
Stage seven: Wiggins crashes as Hansen wins
Stage six: Cavendish wins stage six of Giro
Stage five: Degenkolb avoids crash to take win
Stage four: Battaglin sprints to first Giro stage win
Stage three: Paolini takes charge
Stage two: Sky wins team time trial
Stage one: Cavendish wins opener
Giro d'Italia 2013: Photo galleries
Photos by Graham Watson
Stage 11 gallery
Stage 10 gallery
Stage nine gallery
Stage eight gallery
Stage seven gallery
Stage six gallery
Stage five gallery
Stage four gallery
Stage three gallery
Stage two gallery
Stage one gallery
Team presentation gallery
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