Mark Cavendish believes the introduction of more aerodynamic bikes and helmets to the peloton has reduced his advantage over bigger rivals such as Marcel Kittel and André Greipel – and the British champion says he’s hitting the gym to work on his strength.
Crouched improbably low over the handlebars as he makes his final surge to the line, meaning he encounters less air resistance than his rivals, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider's trademark style has helped make him the most succesful sprinter in the history of the Tour de France, with 25 stage wins to his name.
His big aim this year is to take his 26th stage - and with it, the race leader's yellow jersey - on the opening day of the race on 5 July, when Stage 1 from Leeds finishes in his mother’s home town of Harrogate.
But others are targeting it too, including Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel – who last year won the opening stage on Corsica, and was in Yorkshire this week with the Dutch outfit to recce the routes of the opening two stages – and Lotto-Belisol's André Greipel.
Cavendish, smaller and lighter than Kittel or Greipel, says that developments in technology have reduced his edge over his rivals, and is now in the gym doing exercises such as squat thrust as well as seeking to strengthen his core stability.
“With the aerodynamic advancements in the bikes and the helmets now those big strong guys, like Griepel and Kittel, are getting a bigger advantage than I am, percentage-wise, compared to their body mass,” he said, quoted in the Daily Mail.
“I thought I'd better get a bit stronger because my aerodynamic ability is not going to help me as much as it used to.”
Reunited with his former leadout man at HTC Highroad and with ex-rival Alessandro Petacchi also now riding alongside him, Cavendish has built his season around the Tour.
After winning at least five stages in each of the previous three editions, 2012 saw Cavendish, then with Sky, play a supporting role to Sir Bradley Wiggins' overall ambitions. He still came away with two stages.
What’s more, on the final day in Paris last July, Kittel became the first man to beat him on the Champs-Elysées, where Cavendish had won for four years in a row, the German winning his fourth stage of the race.
Should Cavendish win the opening stage of this year's race, he would be only the third British rider to have worn the leader’s jersey of all three Grand Tours, joining David Millar and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Regarding his prospects of winning the stage, he said: “I'll do everything I can to make it happen,” he added.
Unlike Kittel, however, he hasn’t yet been to Yorkshire to look at the route of the stage in person.
“I have done the third stage [from Cambridge to London], but we're planning with the team to go in the next weeks [to Yorkshire] and see it,” he said.
“It's not beneficial to go when it's three degrees.”
A virus picked up after Milan-San Remo kept Cavendish out of races such as the Scheldeprijs, and despite the Giro d’Italia changing the way the points competition works to favour sprinters, Cavendish, winner of that contest last year, will miss the race to focus on his preparations for the Tour.
That begins this Sunday with the Tour of Turkey, followed by the Amgen Tour of California in May and the Tour du Suisse the following month.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.