Every year the Tour de France gets tougher for sprinters, British speed king Mark Cavendish claimed ahead of a distinctly mountainous 2016 edition.
The 31-year-old Manxman is third in the all-time list of Tour stages wins with 26 behind only legends Eddie Merckx (34) of Belgium and France’s Bernard Hinault (28).
But having won 20 Tour stages in his first four years from 2008-11, he has managed only six in the four years since.
“It’s just got harder,” said Cavendish at a press conference for his African Dimension Data team on Thursday.
“In 2008 there were 18 category 2 and above climbs in the Tour de France; last year there were 18 in the last week alone and this year there are 28!
“It’s not quite double but it’s a fair amount, 10 more. But you can see the increase in the years since 2008, it’s gone up more and more.
“Obviously the sprint opportunities are less.”
Cavendish said that some of the supposedly flat sprinter stages are also turning out to be too tough for the pure fast men.
“If you look at the stage Greg Van Avermaet won last year (stage 13), on paper it was a sprint stage but I lost 40 seconds in the last 300 metres.”
On that stage there was a kick up at the finish where overall contenders and specialised climbers like Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali were rubbing shoulders with punchy sprinters at the finish, while the pure fast men had long been dropped.
The changing nature of the race means more riders are trying to get involved in sprint finishes than before.
“You’re typically getting GC (overall contenders) guys and sprinters in the final together,” said Cavendish.
Two years ago, Cavendish crashed with specialist puncher Simon Gerrans of Australia in the run-in on the opening stage in Harrogate in Yorkshire.
Given the profile of the second day’s stage, Gerrans was a genuine contender to wear the yellow jersey after that stage.
Although not a classic sprinter, he was riding at the front of the peloton in the run-in on the opening stage to make sure he would be well placed for the following day — although neither he nor Cavendish took the start on stage two due to the injuries suffered in their crash.
“It’s not often I tangle with Simon Gerrans in a sprint, but there was the chance of him getting the yellow jersey on the second day,” explained Cavendish, who said there can be up to “half the peloton” to manoeuvre in the finish at times, making life harder for sprinters.
Cavendish will nonetheless be amongst the favourites on Saturday’s largely flat opening stage, although he will be hard pushed to beat German pair Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel.
Kittel won four stages in each of the 2013 and 2014 editions while Greipel matched that feat last year.
Cavendish struggled against those two, winning only two stages in 2013 and just one last year. – Agence France-Presse