Prelude to green jersey battle suggests title wide open
Cavendish vs Goss - Cav holds the upper hand in the Green jersey stakes - if he wants it Image: Graeme Watson
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Cycling fans in the south of Holland have been treated to a preview of what might come in the battle for the green jersey at this year’s Tour de France.
The Ster ZLM Toer GP Jan van Heeswijk, a 668 km race held over four days on mostly flat terrain, attracted some of the world’s best sprinters, including the Manx Missile himself, Mark Cavendish.
And while Cavendish walked away with the first general classification win of his career, he didn’t have things his own way.
Oddly enough, despite overall victory, Supermanx failed to win a single stage!
As would be expected on a flatlander’s paradise, the sprints provided the highlights. Cavendish was always in the mix of course, but it was left to his hottest rivals to claim the top podium positions at the end of each day.
Young German superstar Marcel Kittel further pressed his claim as the next big thing by winning the opening and closing stages of the event.
While the Argos-Shimano rider thanked his team and spoke of the confidence that the win would give them, Cavendish was shaking his head and muttering about having misjudged where the finish line was. He had started his sprint late and had to settle for third behind Kittel and his ex-lead out man, Mark Renshaw.
Cavendish knew where the finish line was at the completion of stage two but it mattered little. After getting into a drag race with Andre Greipel it was the big German who triumphed.
Once again the victor was full of praise for his team mates and is convinced that his team, Lotto Belisol, will have the fastest lead-out train at the Tour, and with tough as nails Kiwi Greg Henderson guiding him through traffic at the pointy end, the big German will be keen to chalk up another win over the Manx Missile.
Renshaw rounded out the stage two podium.
Stage three was dubiously coined the ‘Queen’ stage although it did dip into Belgium and track along roads that are familiar with the Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Lars Boom won the stage after making an early break for the line on the slight up hill finish. As expected, the undulating nature of the stage had seen the fastmen lose contact with the main group. All of them that is except for the Manxman!
Cavendish tried in vain to reel in Boom during the last frantic metres of the race but once again had to settle for a minor placing, but it was all he needed to hold onto the overall lead heading into the pancake flat final stage.
Team mate Juan Antonio Flecha was third while rivals Renshaw, Kittel and Greipel were nowhere to be seen.
Kittel bounced back to win the forth and final stage from Renshaw and Jurgen Roelandts while Cavendish rolled across the line in sixteenth place, content to finish in the bunch and claim overall honours.
While a small race in the overall scheme of things, the calibre of sprinters contesting the event was second to none and it provides us with an interesting form line coming into the Tour de France.
While Cavendish won’t go into the Tour rusty or searching for form, the confidence gained by his rivals during this race shouldn’t be underestimated. Couple this with the knowledge that his lead out train will undoubtedly be compromised as Team Sky hold back riders to look after general classification hopeful Bradley Wiggins, and the time has never been better to snare a win against the world champion.
Griepel’s confidence is sky high, he is in good form (13 victories so far this season), and has a good team around him. Kittel is fast and could be anything. Renshaw’s confidence is growing as he continues to settle into his position of designated sprinter.
Add Goss, Farrar and Sagan to the equation and Cavendish is going to have to fight and scrap like never before.
It will be worth staying up for.
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