Cavendish prepares for Yorkshire Dales dash
When the Tour de France sprints through Yorkshire tomorrow, Mark Cavendish will hope to make a mark
With 24 hours to go before the start of the 101st Tour de France, excitement is building in Yorkshire where the race will begin on Saturday. The first three stages of cycling’s most famous race are in England and the Opening Ceremony on Thursday evening witnessed all 198 riders pedal from Leeds University through the city centre to the arena.
Once there, cycling’s greatest names were "treated" to a performance by Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh, but the loudest cheer of the event was reserved for Britain’s Chris Froome, the defending champion, who will be leading Team Sky in the defence of his title.
"It is the biggest event for us," said Froome. "I can’t say how special it is to come back here as the defending champion."
The tour opens with a 190km stage from Leeds to Harrogate via the Yorkshire Dales, a route that will suit the sprinters and particularly Britain’s Mark Cavendish. The ‘Manx Missle’, as the sprinting specialist is known, could be wearing the fabled Yellow Jersey for the first time in his career on Saturday. It’s an enticing prospect for the Isle of Man rider given that his mother is from Harrogate.
"To think the first stage is in Yorkshire and finishes in my mother’s home town, it’s really exciting," said Cavendish, who rides for Omega Pharma-QuickStep. "I remember being here in Harrogate many summers. My grandparents and my uncle still live here. It’s nice to look around the places I knew when I was young."
Cavendish, whose relationship with the media can at best be described as ‘lukewarm’ was keen to distance himself from the spotlight. "There are 200 bike riders on the start line almost and every one of those would like to win the yellow jersey. It just so happens the media attention is around me because my mum is from Harrogate."
He later tweeted his frustration at the tone of some of the reporters during the press conference, saying: "Was asked the same question, worded differently, 6times. I answered the same question, worded the same, 6times."
The biggest threat to Cavendish’s reign as the tour’s top sprinter will come from powerhouse German Marcel Kittel. The Giant-Shimano rider, who at 6ft 2in and nearly 13 stone towers over the 5ft 9in Cavendish, beat the Briton in four of the six sprints in last year's tour.
At 26, he is also three years younger than Cavendish but what he doesn’t have in his favour is a knowledge of the Yorkshire Dales. Cavendish does, having cycled through them many times in the past. His familiarity with the narrow, winding lanes could prove decisive on Saturday afternoon.