If he is to break Eddy Merckx's Tour de France stage win record next year, Mark Cavendish will have to tackle the "toughest course" he has ever seen.
The Astana Qazaqstan rider was present at the Palais des Congrès on Wednesday to watch the 2024 Tour de France route presentation, and appeared to be caught out by just how difficult the parcours are.
According to race organisers ASO there are eight flat stages, four hilly stages, seven mountain stages and two time trials, but many of the flat stages are tricky affairs, while the amount of climbing throughout will prove tough for the fast men and their leadout trains.
"It's so hard. I am actually in a bit of shock," Cavendish told the media, including Het Nieuwsblad and GCN, after the presentation. "It might be the hardest route I've ever seen at the Tour de France."
"There's a few [sprint opportunities], but you've got to get to them, that's the problem," he continued. "I think Turin should offer the chance for sprinters. This is perhaps the toughest course I have ever seen during a Tour de France."
The first chance for a bunch sprint should be on stage three, to Turin, but with 52,320 metres across the 3,492km of racing next July, it will be difficult to get round. Stages three, five, six, eight, 10, 12, 13 and 16 are all designated as flat by ASO, but many of those include notable amounts of climbing, while stages 10 and 16 could very well be affected by crosswinds.
Even the first sprint, in Turin, comes after two tough days in Italy, with stage one from Florence to Rimini includes 3,600 metres of climbing, and stage two including Bologna's San Luca climb twice towards the end. At least Cavendish has memories of past days in Tuscany to look back on while suffering
"The start in Italy is super nice, it is right by my home for many years. It is only a few kilometres away, so I know the first kilometres really well, but it makes no difference because it starts hard, finishes hard and is all hard," Cavendish said.
"It will be beautiful in Italy, the Giro is always an incredible race and I know the Tuscan people just love cycling. It is really quite special."
The sprinter initially announced during the 2023 Giro d'Italia that he would call time on his career at the end of the current season. However, having crashed out of the 2023 Tour de France, it was confirmed this month that he will postpone retirement with the possibility of taking the stage win record at the Tour. He currently shares the record with Eddy Merckx.
To that end, the team has bolstered its sprint squad, signing Michael Mørkøv and Davide Ballerini from Soudal Quick-Step, Max Kanter from Movistar, and Rüdi Selig from Lotto Dstny.
"It's kind of still in the process, we know roughly what we are doing next year. It's a good group, I've seen a lot of the new guys," Cavendish added.
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