Manx Missile Miss-firing?

British Champs 2013: Glasgow.
British Champs 2013: Glasgow.

We’ve seen Cavendish getting nowhere in the sprints at the 2014 Dubai Tour, but does this actually tell us anything about his form for later in the year. His stated goal is the Tour de France, is there anything to worry about for the Manxman with his results in February?

Early Season

The change in focus this year may have some effect on early form this year, gone are any aspirations to be competitive for Milan-San Remo. We have to remember that his victory was in 2009, when nobody really suspected he could stay in contention over the Cipressa & Poggio, they never allowed that to happen again, so regardless of the route change, there’s always going to be somebody wanting to make it too hard for the pure sprinters. He’s also written off any attempt to peak for Gent-Wevelgem, which he says would have require him to devote a substantial amount of time to prepare for. So we have a Cav who is motivated to take the yellow jersey on stage 1 of the Tour, his whole season is based around that peak, it’s no surprise he’s not on form right now, he doesn’t need to be.

Past It?

There’s often cries of Cav losing his speed, but we forget he’s only 28, hardly an old man in the peloton these days. There is a higher calibre of sprinter now, with Kittel leading the challengers, along with some experienced teams willing to make it incredibly hard for the Manxman’s lead out train. These rivals are all set up to beat Cav, such has been his dominance in recent years, they’ve hired the necessary riders to take on his team. This involves a very strong lead out team to place their rider correctly in the final 300m, this is where Cav has been suffering while with Sky & OPQS. Rather than being past it, Cav hasn’t had the dedicated teams with the perfect lead out riders he’s had in the past, while other teams have dramatically improved in this aspect. We’ve seen hints of the speed from the past, he’s not lost it, it still exists, but as we’ve seen the other sprint teams are specifically targeting him. If he’s alone they swing off near him, all part of the game, but unsettling if the team isn’t supporting you in the final km’s.

2014

We’ll see Pettachi & Renshaw as Omega Pharma Quick Step’s final lead out men, the return of Renshaw could be the difference. ‘Prince Harry’ has shown early form by finishing 2nd to Kittle on one stage of Dubai, he has the speed & the craft in a finale, ideal as Cav’s derny. The unpredictable Steegmans, once a promising sprinter in his own right, will drift from the lead out, potentially not racing with Cav very much in 2014. While other OPQS riders like Scotsman Andy Fenn are progressing their careers, he finished 3rd behind Greipel & Renshaw on stage 6 of the Tour Down Under this year, which raises the eyebrows of what he may be capable of in the future, he’s only 23!

The only doubt we may have regarding Cav’s support at the Tour is the presence of Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian climber & 2nd place finisher in the 2013 Giro. A rider of that quality deserves some support in the mountains at a grand tour, which will undermine Cav’s sprint train desires. We also have Michal Kwiatkowski who had a very impressive 2013 Tour, fighting for the white jersey for some time & eventually finishing 11th on GC. Luckily for Cav, riders like the Pole are not just climbers, riders with that kind of talent can help out in early lead out trains too.

The Gist Of It

Cav isn’t over the hill yet, he can barely get over a small one, at 28 he still has plenty of years left in him at the top. Having witnessed his form last year in Glasgow, it’s hard to see him suddenly becoming an ordinary rider in 2014, I think he’ll be more than challenging Kittel & other at the Tour, where it matters for him, February isn’t important to his goals anymore, he has enough UCI points. He’s getting back to basics, not trying to transform himself into a classics rider, but concentrating on what he excels at, bunch sprints in grand tours.

If as I suspect, his team get themselves in order, marshalled by Renshaw, then things could be very different this year. They have lacked discipline, perhaps focussed too much on multiple goals, but a dedicated sprint train will exist in July. I suspect Uran will suffer, with only Kwiatkowski & perhaps Thomas de Gendt allocated to help him in the mountains. If Uran loses a chunk of time on one stage, we can expect the Manxman will demand resources going his way, especially if there’s been a yellow jersey in Yorkshire. I suspect that this will be a good Tour for Cavendish, we’ve not seen the last of him, it looks like a measured start to the season, rather than a downfall.

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