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Cavendish will go down as one of the greatest sprinters ever

Richard Moore Posted 24th May 2012 view comments

Mark Cavendish turned 27 this week, which is hard to believe on two, apparently contradictory, counts.

It feels as though he has been around forever, even while Cavendish himself still seems as youthful as the tyro who burst on to the scene with his victory at the Scheldeprijs semi-classic in 2007.

At 27, he should be at his peak. For sprinters it has tended to be a bit younger than for GC riders, though Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen, who retired this week at the grand old age of 39, debunk the myth that it is exclusively a young man's game.

Cavendish: at his peak?

Cavendish: at his peak?

What is more certain is that, whether Cavendish goes on improving or not, he already deserves his place in the record books as one of - if not the - greatest sprinters the sport has ever seen.

It is a mark of his greatness that his defeat by Andrea Guardini on Thursday, at the end of stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia, came as such a shock. Sprinting should be a bit of a lottery, but Cavendish has made it seem predictable.

It is a mark of his greatness that his defeat by Andrea Guardini on Thursday, at the end of stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia, came as such a shock. Sprinting should be a bit of a lottery, but Cavendish has made it seem predictable.

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

Although much was made of 22-year-old Guardini's victory, I wouldn't read too much into it. The fact remains that you can count the number of times Cavendish has been beaten in a straight sprint on the fingers of one hand.

Red points jersey

By finishing second and winning the intermediate sprint - which perhaps dulled his speed at the end - Cavendish tightened his hold on the red points jersey, though it remains close between him and Joaquim Rodriguez, who is also in the overall leader's pink jersey, and should scoop some points in the mountainous stages of Friday and Saturday.

But Cavendish is still in it. And he still has a hat-trick in his sights, of the points jersey in all three Grand Tours, following his wins at the Tour de France (2011) and Vuelta a España (2010).

Perhaps the biggest surprise is not that Cavendish was beaten, but that he is still riding the Giro and toiling through a final week that included only one stage (Thursday's) that suited him. With the Tour coming up most expected him to pull out with a week to go. But he appears to be serious about winning the red jersey, and I can see why, because it would probably be a greater achievement than his green jerseys at the Tour and Vuelta.

There are a couple of reasons. For one thing, he ended up with nothing on two stages he looked like winning - most notably stage three, when he was taken out by a kamikaze Roberto Ferrari in the closing metres.

Sprinters

Mainly, however, it is because the red jersey isn't really a sprinters' jersey. A glance at the previous winners - most recently Michele Scarponi, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov - illustrates that it rewards all-rounders more than pure sprinters, with the points more evenly distributed than at the Tour where they are weighted in favour of the flat stages.

Sprinters have won it - Daniele Bennati in 2007, Petacchi in 2004, and Cipollini on three occasions. But consider the fact that Cipollini won 42 stages - he really should have won the points competition more often.

No question, it would be another fine addition to Cavendish's palmarès. But it could come at a cost. The Giro will have taken a lot out of him. If he makes it to Milan - as he surely now will - I would be astonished if he also finishes the Tour de France.

Twitter.com/richardmoore73

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