(AFP) – Mark Cavendish had hoped the second week of the Tour de France might see him climb back into contention for the green jersey, but instead it is proving to be a week to forget.
The sprint star was blamed by other riders — but not by race officials — for a crash that brought down Dutchman Tom Veelers in Saint-Malo on Tuesday and then had urine thrown at him by a spectator during Wednesday’s time-trial to Mont-Saint-Michel.
Fast forward to Thursday, and there was more bad publicity for Cavendish when organisers of the Boxmeer Criterium in the Netherlands said that he would not be welcome at their race on July 22.
He then saw his hopes of recording a second stage win on this year’s Tour thwarted when he was pipped in a sprint finish in Tours by rising German star Marcel Kittel.
“He was just simply faster. I can go back and look over and over again but I don’t think myself or the team could have done anything different,” said Cavendish after the 12th stage.
“He (Kittel) was just simply better, you know? I was just beaten by a better guy.”
Despite the 28-year-old’s desire to play down the significance of his latest defeat, questions are now being asked in some quarters as to whether he can still be considered the sport’s number one sprinter.
However, unsurprisingly, his management at the Omega Pharma Quick-Step team insist that it is still far too early to draw any conclusions from this year’s race.
“You cannot make conclusions already when we are barely halfway through the Tour,” said the team’s CEO Patrick Lefevere.
“If I am asked the same question again in Paris I will respond honestly, because I always say that you have to wait until the Champs Elysees (which welcomes the last stage) to draw any conclusions.
“Winning on the Champs Elysees is like winning two stages, in terms of the publicity it brings.”
“Over 175 metres, if somebody beats you by 10-15 centimetres you have to accept it. To be a winner, you have to accept that you can lose.”
Meanwhile, Lefevere insisted that Cavendish had not been left with any mental scars following Wednesday’s urine-throwing incident.
“On Wednesday night he was sad but by the morning his morale had improved and we said that the best way to respond was on his bike,” added Lefevere.
“Everyone was a bit shocked but Mark is well respected among the peloton and they responded well.”
Cavendish, who sits 96 points behind leader Peter Sagan in the race for the green jersey, will have one more chance to record a stage win on Friday’s ride from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond, before the Tour moves towards the Alps.
There is not likely to be another chance for a sprint finish until the final stage on the Champs Elysees, where the British champion has won in each of the last four years.