Mark Cavendish is relishing the prospect of sprinting for what would be his 26th Tour de France stage win tomorrow – in his mother’s home town, Harrogate. Should he cross the line first, he would also take the yellow jersey and become just the third British rider after David Millar and Sir Bradley Wiggins to have worn the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s Grand Départ which will see the race commence with a stage from Leeds to Harrogate, Cavendish, who made his debut in the race in London in 2007, said: “It's incredible. For the second time in my career the UK has the grand depart of the Tour de France, the biggest bike race in the world.
“To think the first days are in Yorkshire and the first stage finishes in my mother's town of Harrogate is really exciting. I remember being in Harrogate many summers. My grandparents live here, my uncle still lives here.
“It's nice to return and look around at the places I knew when I was young. The support of not just Yorkshire, but the whole Grand Départ has been phenomenal. When I came weeks ago to recon the course, the vibe that was around here was phenomenal. It was something I've never seen.
“The support from people, the people who do or don't know about bike racing, it's been absolutely tremendous. I don't think anyone can really anticipate how big it's going to be this weekend and I'm looking forward to savouring that.”
Last year’s opening stage on Corsica was the first chance for a sprinter to take the race lead since Cavendish first rode the Tour, and he had high hopes of getting into yellow.
However, an already nervous peloton was thrown into confusion after the Orica-GreenEdge bus got stuck under the finish line arch, with the end of the stage initially moved prior to the vehicle being freed.
Cavendish, favourite to win that day, was one of the riders caught in a crash in the closing kilometres. Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel went on to win the stage, and Cavendish admits there are no guarantees he will win tomorrow.
“It's not a given that we will come away with the yellow jersey,” he said. “Things can always go right or wrong at the Tour de France. There's 200 riders on the start line almost, and every one of them would like to win the yellow jersey. It's a big honour.
“The media focus happens to be on me because my mother's from Harrogate. I'd like to win the first stage, Omega Pharma-Quick- Step has a strong team, but the Tour de France is 21 days long and it doesn't finish after the first stage or we leave Yorkshire. We've got an incredibly strong Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team here and we'd like to do well across the three weeks.”
He continued: “I feel in good condition for this Tour de France. A lot of guys who were at the Tour de Suisse got sick but hopefully I am over that. I've had nine wins this year and the team is close to 50 already. We've been super successful all season, racing across the board, and put a strong team together for the Tour de France that will try and do well over these three weeks.”
Cavendish, who took his first stage win in the race in 2008 is now the most successful sprinter in its history.
He reflected: “I'm incredibly lucky to have won 25 stages at the Tour de France. It's the biggest bike race in the world and to come here with the successful teams I've been part of has been monumental to my career.
“Sure I'd like to win as much as possible, as much as I can. One win in a rider's career can be the highlight of their career, not just one win a year. Omega Pharma-Quick-Step came here last year and won four stages. That's a successful Tour, that's about one out of every five stages.
“We want to come here and repeat that. We want to be successful and win WorldTour stages. There are strong riders on other teams who also want to do well, but we're all really motivated to try and get good results,” he added.
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.