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Mark Cavendish “genuinely scared” of the mountains in this year's Tour de France

Manxman says Eddy Merckx’s Tour de France stage record is the target of his career

It doesn’t relate to his form or his weight – it’s a comment on the route. Mark Cavendish has told the Guardian that for the first time in his life he is “genuinely scared” of the mountain stages in this year’s Tour de France.

The route for the 105th edition of the Tour de France features rather more sprint stages than in recent years, but for Cavendish these opportunities will be balanced out by some challenging days in the Alps and Pyrenees.

“Some of the stages are the hardest I’ve seen in my career,” he said. “In the gruppetto you make time up on descents and flat; the 60km stage isn’t so bad, but in the Alpe d’Huez one there is so few places where you can get time back. Cycling is unique in that in any other sport I’d be in a different weight category or discipline. What I do is a different sport to what Chris Froome does.”

Cavendish’s season has so far been blighted by crashes and injuries. He crashed out of both the Abu Dhabi Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico before another horrific crash at Milan-San Remo when he hit a large bollard.

He returned to racing in May at the Tour de Yorkshire, describing the race as “a shock to the system,” but has since completed the Tour of California, the Tour of Slovenia and the inaugural Adriatica Ionica Race in Italy.

While his only win so far this year came in the Dubai Tour in February, he is sufficiently confident that he was unafraid to refer to Eddy Merckx’s record for Tour de France stage wins.

“Thirty-four [stages] is the target of my career. I’d like to get it but it is easier to say than actually to do. The perception is that I’ve always made winning look easy. People think it’s easy, but they don’t see what’s behind it, the time away from the family. The days spent climbing, training out in all weather, climbing but trying to keep the speed for the sprint. I’m lucky that when I do win, I make it look easy.”

Riding for Dimension Data in support of the Qhubeka charity also seems to have brought a phlegmatic note to the famously fiery sprinter’s character.

“You just have to try,” he said. “I just have to go and be competitive for my sponsors. Whether I win or lose, it’s good for them; what we do at Dimension Data feels different, because of the Qubeka charity: we are riding to put 5,000 children on bikes in rural South Africa. We measure our success on that as well as anything else.

“They’ve put a strong team around me, even if we are missing Bernie Eisel. If my best isn’t good enough, so be it.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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