THOUGH HE CURRENTLY enjoys a 37-point lead over Tyler Farrar in the race for the Tour de France’s green jersey, Mark Cavendish is anxious ahead of the Tour’s final week.
As the climbers will be setting their sights on stage victories during a series of gruelling Alpen finishes, Cavendish and his fellow sprint specialists will just be aiming to cross the line inside the daily time limit.
Calculated as a percentage of the stage victor’s time, the limit becomes the bete noir of the bulkier sprinters on the Tour’s more mountainous stages.
“It will end at some point, whether you’re in or out of the time limit. I’m lucky I’ve got Bernie with me.”"It’s just about suffering.”
Bernie – Cavendish’s HTC Highroad team-mate Bernhard Eisel – will be responsible for motivating and assisting Cavendish over the final week as he struggles to negotiate some of the Tour’s most challenging climbs, including the infamous Galibier during Stage 18. He’ll also be charged with collecting the Briton’s wattle bottles from the team car as a means of preventing accusations of hanging on.
“I’m scared to even collect a bottle from the car now in case someone gets a photo of me just grabbing a bottle and accuses me of hanging on.”
Cavendish is particularly wary of the threat posed by Belgian classics specialist Philippe Gilbert.
Ivan Basso meanwhile is good to go. He won the white jersey for best young rider in the 2002 Tour de France, setting up what looked like a glittering career for the Italian. It’s been a long nine years.
Far from a favorite this year, the 33-year-old Basso was fifth overall after two weeks, just over a minute behind Andy Schleck and 44 seconds ahead of defending champion Alberto Contador.
Basso and Contador are the only riders among the group vying for the title who’ve won a major tour before — the Italian is a two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia — and he knows that experience could be invaluable.
“In the final week, the legs are important but the head makes the difference,” Basso said. ”It’s been one of the hardest tours, for the weather, for the route, for the new sprint rules,” he added, pointing out that the lack of a dominant team of the sort that existed when Lance Armstrong was racing has meant no one is really controlling the race.
- additional reporting AP