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Mark Cavendish in mood to light up the Tour

By Matt McGeehan

Mark Cavendish hopes to bounce back from his Harrogate horror to return to winning ways at the Tour de France.

The 30-year-old from the Isle of Man begins his ninth Tour on Saturday in Utrecht and has 25 stage wins to his name.

He is still to claim his 26th win and the race leader's fabled yellow jersey after his pursuit on last year's stage from Leeds to Harrogate, his mother's home town, ended on the Tarmac and with a separated shoulder which required surgery.

"I crashed out on the first stage of last year's Tour de France in Harrogate and I missed the race a lot," Cavendish said.

"I was in superb form and to sit at home and watch the race wasn't easy.

"We've looked at trying to come into the Tour de France in the same form I was in last year and hopefully get back to winning ways.

"I was in incredible form at the beginning of last year's Tour and I knew if I could do the same kind of lead up to this year's Tour then I'd be in similar condition."

Cavendish is out of contract with Etixx-QuickStep at the end of the year and the Tour could be pivotal in determining what the future holds.

His hopes of adding to his tally improved when Marcel Kittel, whose win in Harrogate was one of eight stage successes in the last two years, was not selected by Giant-Alpecin following an illness-plagued season.

Only Eddy Merckx, with 34, and Bernard Hinault, with 28, are ahead of Cavendish in the rankings of Tour stage wins.

The Briton won four in 2008, six in 2009, five in 2010 and 2011 and three and two in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and might expect to climb above Hinault, a five-time Tour winner.

He added: "I'd like to add more than one stage."

Cavendish has won the points classification's green jersey once - in 2011 - despite his phenomenal tally of stage wins.

The points competition has been tinkered with to give a greater differential between first place and the rest on flat stages, but Cavendish has played down the alteration.

"I've always said I look at stage wins and hopefully the green jersey comes from that. It makes no difference," he said.

Cavendish is one of 10 Britons starting the Tour, alongside 2013 winner Chris Froome of Team Sky.

Froome has four Britons in support - Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Pete Kennaugh - while Simon and Adam Yates are riding for Orica-GreenEdge, Steve Cummings for MTN-Qhubeka and Alex Dowsett for Movistar.

Dowsett is a contender for the opening 13.8km time-trial, along with Tom Dumoulin, Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin.

Meanwhile, Froome is relaxed, ready and raring to begin his bid to reclaim the Tour de France title after a preparation he described as "perfect".

The 30-year-old Team Sky leader crashed out of the 2014 race, which began in Leeds, having won the 100th edition 12 months earlier.

Froome is one of four favourites for the yellow jersey, alongside defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, who was runner-up to Froome in 2013. "Not coming in as defending champion I've got everything to race for this year," said Froome, who won traditional Tour warm-up the Criterium du Dauphine last month.

"It doesn't feel like such a burden, having this pressure, any more.

"From a personal point of view I've got to the start of this race in perfect condition.

"The journey for me started a year ago when I crashed out of this race."

Three crashes in two days - resulting in a fractured hand and a broken wrist - accounted for Froome 12 months ago prior to the cobbles on the fifth stage.

The bone-rattling stones return this year, but Froome is unconcerned.

Froome said: "I didn't even see a cobble in last year's Tour. I didn't make it that far. I'm actually quite looking forward to that stage."

For Froome the battle for the general classification begins on Saturday with the opening 13.8-kilometres time-trial in Utrecht.

Belfast Telegraph


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