Roger Hammond, the former one-day Classic specialist who is Mark Cavendish’s directeur sportif at the Dimension Data squad, is confident that his protege will prove hard to beat in Sunday’s world road race championship in Doha where the Manxman is chasing the second world road title of his career following his victory in Copenhagen in 2011.
“The beauty of Sunday, what’s difficult to predict, is that you have to ask how he can lose it,” said Hammond, who finished third in the Paris-Roubaix Classic in 2004. “If you control it as a team, you end up in a one on one with your sprinter and Cav in the finale. If there are cross-winds, well, winning the overall twice in the Tour of Qatar” – Cavendish took the race this year and in 2013 – “means you are scintillating at riding in those conditions because you are in the yellow jersey and people are trying to get rid of you.
“So it’s very difficult to get rid of him as long as he’s fit, meaning the only thing [his rivals] can do is make it so hard that you isolate him. The problem with that is that not many riders are good at that and you risk isolating yourself, which means you end up with the status quo.” In other words, if a team attempts to toughen up the race and cannot leave Cavendish behind, there is a good chance that another sprinter, such as André Greipel or the defending champion, Peter Sagan, might simply have to tackle Cavendish man to man.
Cavendish enjoyed a smooth build-up through September until stomach problems mean he missed six days of training at the end of the month, and pulled out of two races. He did, however, finish strongly in the Paris-Tours Classic last Sunday, implying that he is not far from his best.
“Without that sickness you’d be a fool to bet against him [for the World’s] but now we don’t know,” said Hammond. “Paris-Tours was a good sign, people underestimate that race but he rode 250 kilometres and was at the front after a hard run-in.”
Hammond joined the Dimension Data team this year and oversaw Cavendish’s successful campaign in the Tour de France, where he won four stages. He added that the rider’s form in mid-September at the Tour of Britain had been outstanding. “He was bloody strong there. We had to use him in a different way because Steve Cummings was in the yellow jersey, so everyone overlooked him. He saved the day for us several times.”
Cavendish was prominent in setting up Cummings, who went on to win overall, for what proved to be the key climb, the Struggle in the Lake District, but, said Hammond, there was more. “The most impressive thing was on the days when the other riders were attacking left, right and centre at the start, on several days Cav was our last man standing after doing 500 sprints to control all the breaks.”
Sunday’s world championships course consists of a 150km loop to the north of Doha where the race is likely to be buffeted by the wind, before seven laps of the 15km finishing circuit on the Pearl peninsula, where a plethora of roundabouts and corners makes for a race that is technically demanding but completely flat. There have been issues with riders collapsing in the heat – Great Britain’s Luke Rowe tweeted a picture of his handlebar computer displaying a temperature of 47.9C – and the extreme conditions are likely to play a central role.
Depending on how they cope with the heat, Great Britain field a team which, on paper, is at least as strong as the one which dominated in 2011. As well as the Team Sky stalwarts Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Rowe – who protected Chris Froome when strong winds hit the Tour de France this summer – sprinters such as Ben Swift, Dan McLay and Adam Blythe could provide strong support in a blanket finish.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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