Cavendish will take part in the prestigious French race for only the second time in his career (after 2011), fitting it in with a season built around the Tour de France and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
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“The real focus for him remains Roubaix, this is because of the learning process as well,” Dimension Data performance manager Rolf Aldag told Cycling Weekly.
“He always had ambitions to do a good Roubaix. You have to start somehow, somewhere to learn about it. He really loves it. It’s another milestone in the building process with Scheldeprijs [on Wednesday].”
Cavendish has been training at home on a Cervélo built for 52.7 kilometres of cobbled farm roads that make up the 257.5-kilometre French monument. He will travel to Antwerp next week ahead of Scheldeprijs and cross over the border into northern France to recon the cobble sectors on Thursday with South African team.
In his career, Cavendish sprinted to his biggest wins. He collected 26 stage victories in the Tour and won the Italian monument Milan-San Remo in 2009. Racing the cobbles shoulder to shoulder with big classics specialists like Tom Boonen (Etixx–QuickStep) could be seen as a stretch for the 30-year-old Manxman.
“He was years with Etixx-QuickStep [for the last three years], and he sees the efforts and the difference it makes if you dial into it and show commitment. Maybe the idea was born there,” added Aldag.
“I’m not saying Cav is going to go sixth in Roubaix or win, but the point is that he wants to do it. He’s interested in it. It’s something interesting, different than riding another one-day race that he already did 15 times.”
Aldag compared Cavendish to different sprinters like Erik Zabel and Tom Steels who rode the ‘Hell of the North’ in past years. Steels went on to place third in the 1999 Paris-Roubaix.
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“It suits him. He’s good in prologues. He can go short distances hard and fast, like in a cobble section. And he can position himself, and that’s needed before each cobble section. He’s small, but he’s not a climber’s weight and won’t bounce around the cobbles. And he’s powerful.”
Cavendish will work for team leader Edvald Boasson Hagen next Sunday along with team-mates including Tyler Farrar and possibly Bernhard Eisel. When the dust settles in the iconic Roubaix velodrome, Aldag will assess the race with Cavendish to decide if it will take a greater focus in 2016 and beyond.
“He’s there to learn. He’s 30, so if you want to do something in Roubaix, it’s unlikely you’ll do it in your first time. If it goes well, he can put effort into it and make it part of his planning.”