British champion won't take to Belfast Big Start, races in California and Switzerland instead...

Mark Cavendish, who last year became just the fifth man to win the points competition in all three of cycling’s Grand Tours when he won the red jersey at the Giro d’Italia, won’t be among the riders starting the race in Belfast in three weeks’ time - despite recently announced rule changes that now make it easier for a sprinter to win the competition.

The 28-year-old’s big target this year is the Tour de France, and in particular the opening stage which finishes in his mother’s home town of Harrogate and gives a rare chance for a sprinter to claim the first yellow jersey of the race.

Barry Hoban, who prior to Cavendish bursting onto the scene was Great Britain’s most successful Tour de France cyclist in terms of stage wins, with eight to his name, recently expressed doubts that the Manxman could win Stage 1 of the 2014 race.

But Cavendish, who is recovering from a virus that put him out of races including the Scheldeprijs, which he has won three times, is determined to prevail in Harrogate and join David Millar and Sir Bradley Wiggins as the third British cyclist to have worn the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours.

Last year’s haul of two stages was his lowest since his debut Tour de France in 2007, so he is also looking to re-establish his supremacy in the sprint and add to his existing tally of 25 stage wins.

His programme will now see him tackle the Tour of Turkey later this month before heading to the United States for the Amgen Tour of California, then Switzerland for the Tour du Suisse.

"As everybody knows, my big goal this year is the Tour de France," he said, quoted on the website of his Omega Pharma-Quick step team, “especially as it starts in my native country." [Belfast, where the Giro starts, is a lot closer to his birthplace of the Isle of Man than Leeds is – Ed]

“My programme is shaped for that moment,” he went on. “This year I will skip the Giro d'Italia. I'm saddened as it's a race that has given me great satisfaction in the past. I have great memories and victories, even last year.

“But, with the Tour de France as my main objective this year, we had to make some choices. I'm sure passing through the Tour of Turkey, and a great, well organised race like Tour of California will get me in shape and ready for the Tour de Suisse, which will be my final tune-up for the Tour de France."

Rolf Aldag, who worked alongside Cavendish at HTC-Highroad and is now sport and development director at Omega Pharma-Quick Step and was instrumental in his moving to the team, added: "With the sickness Mark had, we had to reshape his calendar a little bit."

"It's a shame because Mark showed how strong he was at Milan-San Remo [where he finished fifth]. He could have taken advantage of his condition during the period immediately after that race.

“But, it is what it is, and now we have rebuilt the best approach for Cavendish heading into the Tour.

“Cav is now training in Italy and will be back at Tour of Turkey with a good, strong team around him. With [the] Tour of Turkey we will open the second part of his season that culminates with the Tour de France," he concluded.

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.