Mark Cavendish ‘excited’ by Giro d’Italia stage win opportunities

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Mark Cavendish is targeting stage wins at the Giro d’Italia (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl handout)
Mark Cavendish is targeting stage wins at the Giro d’Italia (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl handout)

Mark Cavendish declared himself to be in relaxed mood as he eyes opportunities to add to his tally of 15 career Giro d’Italia stage wins over the next three weeks.

The Manxman will contest the Italian Grand Tour for the first time since 2013, and only the sixth time in his storied career, when it rolls out of Budapest on Friday morning.

His selection in the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl squad has sparked inevitable speculation about whether he will miss out on the Tour de France – having won four stages and equalled Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 last summer – but Cavendish’s focus is entirely on the Giro, which starts with three days in Hungary.

“It’s nine years since the last time I did the Giro, and I won the red points jersey and I won five stages (in 2013),” he said.

“It’s a race I’ve always liked to do in the past. Obviously the dynamic (of the race) might have changed in the last nine years, it might not be the race I remember, but we’ll see.”

Cavendish has never made a target of the points classification and there is little chance of him donning the race leader’s pink jersey for a fourth time given the uphill finish to Friday’s opening stage to the Royal Palace in Visegrad, but he would love to add to his 15 stages.

There are seven recognised sprint opportunities on this year’s route, the first of them on Sunday’s stage to Balatonfured.

Cavendish will be supported by a squad that includes expert lead-out man Michael Morkov, Davide Ballerini and British rider James Knox among others, with stage hunting their primary objective.

“I’ve got some incredible guys in front of me,” Cavendish said of the team’s lead-out train. “I think that’s the biggest factor in the confidence I have. I know I have incredible guys I can trust who are in form…

“There’s a few opportunities I think, so I’m pretty excited.”

Cavendish goes into the Giro with three victories to his name in 2022, the pick of them on Italian soil in Milan-Torino. That has all come after a horror crash at Ghent Six Day in November when he suffered a punctured lung and two broken ribs.

It was a sad end to a dream 2021. A couple of months after stage wins in the Tour of Turkey gave him his first victories of any kind in more than two years, Cavendish capitalised on a late call-up to the Tour squad to roll back the years with four stage wins, his first in the race since 2016.

That helped Cavendish, who will turn 37 during the Giro, earn another extension to his career but brought no guarantee he would be back at the Tour this year with a shot at beating Merckx.

Reporters at his pre-Giro press conference on Wednesday knew better than to raise the spectre of the Tour, a topic Cavendish has no interest in discussing.

In a Eurosport podcast this week he voiced a fear of artificially creating an intra-squad rivalry with Fabio Jakobsen, who is expected to lead the team in France.

“Fabio and myself have supported each other so much in the last years and the last thing I want and the last thing he wants – the thing that scares me about all this – is for any sort of rivalry to be created between us,” he said.

“I know from experience what happens when the press want to create a rivalry, it’s not that nice and unfortunately it does start to cause friction. We’re not like that and I don’t want to be like that.

“That’s why I’m reluctant to talk about it because I don’t want to fall out with a mate because of something outside our control.”