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Mark Cavendish sets sights on Olympic gold ahead of Tour de France

27th June 2012

The Manxman will compete in the Tour de France but has put thoughts of the green jersey on hold to prioritise London 2012

Within minutes of Mark Cavendish joining Team Sky in mid-October, one question was occupying the cycling part of cyberspace: how could his ambitions in the Tour de France be reconciled with Bradley Wiggins’s goal of winning the overall classification? In March the world road champion’s coach, Rod Ellingworth, revealed to the Guardian that Cavendish might pull out of the Tour early – and so give up on the green jersey – to facilitate his ambition of winning the Olympic road race in London.

Last week’s announcement of Team Sky’s squad for the Tour confirmed that winning sprints for Cavendish would not be the priority, with only one team rider, Bernhard Eisel, dedicated solely to the world champion’s service, while the other six are all-rounders capable of working for Wiggins in the mountains and giving Cavendish a hand on the flat if need be.

Cavendish has confirmed this week what Ellingworth hinted before, that the green jersey is not the priority this July. “It’s not a focus, not a goal, it’s not that we are chasing it,” said Ellingworth, echoing Cavendish’s view that “I haven’t got my eyes on green, to be honest, but there’s always a chance”.

“For chasing it all through the Tour, fighting tooth and nail at every finish, for every intermediate sprint, might mean he could fall short of being ready for the Olympics,” explained the coach. “It would be too much.” The decision to prioritise the Games over the green jersey is simple. As Dave Brailsford, the GB cycling head, said recently: “The green jersey comes around every year but a home Olympic Games comes once in a lifetime.”

The great unknown, however, is whether Cavendish’s goal of winning the Olympic road race six days after the Tour finishes is best served by completing the hardest event on the calendar, come what may, or by pulling out towards the end of the race to save his strength. Currently, the thinking is that Cavendish will go all the way to Paris, according to the rider and Ellingworth. “The idea is that he will finish the Tour; we are confident enough that he can recover,” said Ellingworth. “If he gets it right and relaxes right in the five days between the Tour and the Olympic road race there is no reason why he shouldn’t be ready. If there is any major concern we will have to look at it.”

Cavendish had a final training session on Friday over the Olympic road circuit, covering 110km including efforts on the main climb up Box Hill and work behind a motorbike. The results were encouraging, Ellingworth said. “He had moved on from where he was last time we were there and he is a little ahead of where he needs to be. We had a target of doing some maximum efforts, it was a bit compromised by the weather” – within minutes of Cavendish starting work on the hill, the rain came down – “but at least he’s now seen it in good weather and bad.”

The Manxman has lost four kilograms in recent months and that enabled him to take his first ever overall title in a stage race, winning the ZLM Toer in Holland in mid-June. Intriguingly, however, he did not win a stage in the race, finishing second twice and third once in the four stages, perhaps because he had gone into the race fatigued after a 10-day training block. One of those second places came on a hilly stage where he was the only sprinter to stay with the lead group, something which bodes well for the Tour and the Olympic Games.

The other question is whether losing weight to improve his climbing has reduced Cavendish’s out-and-out power in the finish straight; he concedes this may be the case but still expects to add to his tally of 20 stage wins, just 14 behind the all-time record held by Eddy Merckx. “My form is really good, best it’s been for a few years coming into the Tour,” Cavendish said this week. “[In the Tour] I should be at a lot more [stage] finishes than I have been in the past. I lost a bit of power, but there’s no point having power if you’re not going to get to the finish. I might not absolutely dominate the sprints but I should be there or thereabouts.”

Opinions are divided over whether it will be better for Cavendish to finish the Tour before the Games. Cavendish’s Team Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas is not convinced, as Cavendish has completed the Giro d’Italia this season. “It’s a big ask finishing two Grand Tours, especially for Cav, who doesn’t find climbing that easy and has some hard days out there.”

On the other hand, Brailsford said recently finishing the Tour would be the best thing for Cavendish. “Experience would tell us that Cav is better off completing the Tour, that’s the best way to do it. We will monitor him as he goes along and if at any given moment the fatigue is accumulating too much he will stop there and then. Past history tells us you would expect him to come out of the Tour strong. He responds well to a three-week race. The twist is that in past years he’s had a team very much dedicated to his service, we are in a position to challenge for the overall and that’s a different environment for Mark to find himself in. We’ve got to manage that very carefully.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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