Super sprinter Mark Cavendish previewed the Tour of Flanders course by car this afternoon, two days before he will be cheered as a rock star in Bruges’ Markt Square and support HTC-Columbia team leader Bernhard Eisel.
“I love racing here, it is just the passion for the sport that everyone has here,” said Cavendish. “It is so nice to be a part of, especially being a cycling fan myself.”
Cavendish’s arrival in Belgium was pushed back from Wednesday night to yesterday because of a flight delay. The team booked him on a late flight so he could get a full day of training in Italy before coming to Belgium. Arriving late last night, Cavendish decided to ride two hours this morning near the team’s hotel in Sint-Martens-Latem and then see the Tour of Flanders course by car this afternoon.
He rode in the car with Rolf Aldag and Alain Peiper. They covered the course from the first climb, Den Ast, until the Molenberg, or 10 of the course’s 15 climbs.
“I know the climbs from racing other races in Belgium before and plus I reconnoitred the course with the team when I was a neo-pro,” Cavendish continued.
The Koppenberg climb with its uneven cobbled surface and typically damp surface forces most cyclists to dismount and run up the climb. It is the climb that scares Cavendish the most.
“The lead-up to it narrows and then there is the corner beforehand. Even being in the top ten there, if something happens you are going to be walking up it.
“I always talk about the different aspects of the Monuments. Milan-San Remo is just incredible to ride and beautiful to see how the race evolves. Paris-Roubaix is Paris-Roubaix, it is something different from anything else in cycling and that is what gives it its appeal. But Flanders… It is the legendary course and the crowds, how close the fans get to the riders, that makes it special.”
The HTC-Columbia riders, including Cavendish, will ride in support of Austrian Eisel. Eisel is in good shape heading into the Tour of Flanders and has extra motivation from his win in Ghent-Wevelgem last Sunday.
Eisel usually supports Cavendish, but this time they will reverse the roles.
“The goal is to get Bernie to win,” Cavendish said. “The way he has been going… Even before Ghent-Wevelgem, I would have put him down as one o the favourites in this race. He has been so loyal in my career, so I would be so happy to have him just stand on the podium.”
Cavendish thinks racing Sunday’s Flanders will give him an idea if he can one day return to win it. This year, though, he continues to focus on winning sprints. He will return to Italy after the Tour of Flanders, missing Scheldeprijs to train and prepare for his season goal: the Tour de France’s green jersey.