A 24-year-old from the Isle of Man is hoping to become the first ever British winner of the Maillot Vert (green jersey) in this year’s Tour de France, which sets off from Monaco on July 4.
The Maillot Vert is awarded to the race’s most successful sprinter – as opposed to the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey) for the overall winner – and Manx man Mark Cavendish who is already acknowledged as one of the world’s fastest sprinters is hoping this year it will be his.
Not only must he prove his worth on the designated sprint stages but he must also finish the arduous 3,500km race, something that he failed to do last year when he withdrew early to concentrate on his preparations for the Beijing Olympics. He had however already become something of a Tour sensation by then as the first British rider to ever win four stages of race which is now in its 96th year.
Cavendish told Connexion: “I don’t really set myself specific targets because I want to win everything I can, but you have to be satisfied with even one stage win on the Tour de France.”
A winter of hard training and rest has further toughened his resolve for this year’s campaign, and the former BMX racer – who races for Team Columbia High Road Riders - has already clocked two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, and had the honour of wearing the Maglia Rosa – the pink leader’s jersey, again a first for a British cyclist. He followed up with victory (on his first attempt) in the centenary of the 298km Milan-San Remo race.
A former Commonwealth and world champion on the track, Cavendish said that to improve his faring in this year’s Tour he has focused on the road. He said: “I think in the past I’ve always spent the winters riding the track but that’s like training for a different sport from road racing.
“This winter I completely concentrated on the road and as a result I lost a lot of weight and I did a lot of quality training, which hardens your muscle and hardens you up as a rider.
“Obviously it’s my third year as a professional as well and I’ve now got two seasons behind me so I am maturing. But I only just turned 24 last month so I’m still only relatively young.”
His hopes of claiming the Maillot Vert have been boosted by the recent withdrawal through injury of Australia’s three-times winner Robbie McEwen. If he does win it he would become only the second Briton to win a Tour jersey, after David Millar won 'King of the Mountains' in 1984.
He added: “I’m confident in myself, I’m confident in my team and just really excited generally. The race is so unpredictable but hopefully everything will go right.”
The biggest obstacle in the race is set to be the Mont Ventoux ascent, scheduled for the penultimate day of the Tour (July 25), widely recognised as the toughest climb on the Tour and on which Britain’s Tom Simpson died on a searing hot afternoon back in 1967.
Cavendish, who is determined to make it to the finish line in Paris as he has not done so during his past two attempts, said: “It is extremely nerve-wracking - as is the thought of getting that far then maybe dropping out. But I’ve done the best preparation I can.
“It’s the same climb for everybody, just that some people are riding it for the win and some are riding for pride. It’s a long tough climb but I’d rather be doing that than be stuck in an office. I am in the best shape I possibly can be for the Tour, so it’s just a case of riding each day as it comes.”
Maillot Jaune (Yellow): Overall leader and eventual winner. The yellow jersey was introduced in 1919 by found of Tour de France and editor of L’Auto Henri Desgrange as a promotional tie-in with the paper and for spectators to pick out the leader.
Maillot Vert (Green): Best sprinter, awarded on points accrued during flat stages. First awarded in 1953.
Maillot à Pois Rouges (Polkadot): The ‘King of the Mountains’, worked out on points accrued during mountain stages.
First introduced in 1933.
Maillot Blanc (White): Awarded to the highest finisher aged 25 or under.
Did you know?
The tour attracts 15 million spectators throughout the race, with an average television audience in France alone of 4 million. The fewest ever finishers was ten (out of 69) in 1919. The average racer burns 123,900 calories during the Tour.
Photo: Mark Cavendish winning a stage at the Giro d’Italia