Mark Cavendish’s ambition knows no bounds, but he’s also able to tell when enough is enough.

With the Alpine stage to Prato Nevoso looming, today is the right day for him to pull out of the Tour de France.

Undoubtedly, if the Olympic Games were not just around the corner he would carry on to see if he could net a fifth stage win in Montlucon or even on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

In fact, on Friday after winning in Nimes, he told Cycling Weekly that the thought of challenging for the green jersey had started to cross his mind, as had the idea of winning in Paris.

But Saturday’s stage to Digne-les-Bains brought home how tired he is after five weeks of grand tour stage racing this season. He was dropped from the bunch on the fourth-category climb 10 kilometres from the finish and crossed the line in 108th place, almost three-and-a-half minutes down.

It’s easy to forget, amid all the fuss and celebration surrounding his four stage wins, that he’s still only 23, still only in the second year of his professional career.

And it’s easy to overlook the strength-sapping effect of the official protocol that surrounds stage winners at the Tour de France. The visit to the podium, the television and radio interviews that are conducted behind the podium, all the while the rider is on his feet. Then there’s the press conference for the printed media, where at least the rider gets a chair and a bottle of water.

After that it’s the drive to the hotel and there’s time for a shower and massage before the inevitable media interviews before dinner. Some nights Cavendish would not sit down for his evening meal until gone 9.30pm.

Old school fans may not like the modern trend of pulling out of one event to avoid compromising another, but it is a necessary reality. And Cavendish’s growing legion of fans will no doubt be disappointed they won’t get to see if he could bag another one, but the time has come for cool-headed pragmatism.

There are three very hard days in the Alps to get through.

At the start of the season, the goal for Cavendish was to finish a grand tour. He did that at the Giro d’Italia and says he can already feel the improvement in terms of the strength he has gained.

It is important to recognise is that Cavendish did not quit the race on the road. He made a decision based on what his body was telling him. This week he admitted that quitting stage eight of last year’s Tour, on the extremely difficult stage to Tignes, was the biggest regret of his debut season. “I wish I had got to the finish, even if I was miles out of the time limit,” he told CW.

And his coach, Rod Ellingworth, has stressed that finishing days is the important thing at this stage of his career. “It’s easy to climb off, isn’t it,” he says. “But unless you’re injured or ill, get to the finish, even if you’re outside the time limit. Then you can rest overnight and see how you are in the morning.

“The time has come now, though. He needs to go home and chill out. Phones off, switch himself off, just spin the legs every day.

“He can win the Madison at the Olympics, so now it’s time to do everything with that in mind.

“If he’d finished up there yesterday [Saturday] and was still in with a shout for the green jersey, he’d have gone on, but he is tired. The injuries he got in that crash on the day in the Pyrenees [the stage that went over the Tourmalet to Hautacam] have taken their toll a little bit. He’s sore from that.”

Cavendish will ride three or four of the post-Tour criterium events, which will be ideal preparation for Beijing. He flies to China on August 9, ten days before the Madison race.

Cavendish has completed 70 days of racing on the road this year, as well as tapered his training for the World Championships, where he rode the points race and the Madison events. It’s been a heavy schedule for a young rider, but he thrives on racing rather than training.

And he’s been winning – 11 top-level wins on the road so far, plus the unclassified Ronde Van Made event in Holland, a one-day event with a criterium and a time trial. His 11 wins equals last year’s total for the season – and six of them are grand tour stage victories.

CAVENDISH’S 70 DAYS OF RACING IN 2008

February
Tour of California – 8 days

March
Three Days of West Flanders – 3 days
Tirreno-Adriatico – 7 days

April
Three Days of De Panne – 3 days
Ghent-Wevelgem – 1 day
Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen – 1 day
Ronde van Made – 1 day (non-ranked event in Holland)
Tour of Romandie – 5 days

May
Giro d’Italia – 21 days

June
Ster Elektrotoer – 5 days
National Championship road race – 1 day

July
Tour de France – 14 days

Total road racing days completed 70

Cavendish also rode the points race and Madison at the World Track Championships in March



TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage 15: Schleck takes lead in the Alps
Stage 14: Oscar Freire wins in Digneles Bains
Stage 13: Cavendish takes fourth win
Stage 12: Cavendish makes it three
Stage 11: Arvesen wins
Stage 10: Evans takes yellow jersey by one second
Stage nine: Ricco wins in the Pyrenees
Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse
Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage
Stage six: Ricco storms to win
Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win
Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead
Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break
Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint
Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Comment: Why Cav is right to go home today
Cavendish pulls out of the Tour
Barloworld to end cycling sponsorship
Ricco speaks on Italian television
Cavendish joins the all-time greats
Saunier Duval sack Ricco and Piepoli
Tour bosses say fight against doping continues
Ricco denies doping at the Tour
Saunier Duval pull out of Tour
Tour’s top ten changes
Ricco positive for EPO at Tour
Analysis: Tour de France rest day summary
Cavendish battles through Pyrenees
Evans suffers but takes yellow jersey [stage 10]
Analysis: Hautacam shakes up 2008 Tour
Ricco silences critics with solo attack in Pyrenees [stage nine]
Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]
Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders
David Millar: the dope controls are working
Manuel Beltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour
Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit
Doping back in Tour de France headlines
Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]
Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]
Millar to go for yellow [stage six]
Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]
Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win
Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]
Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]
Who is Romain Feillu?
Cavendish disappointed with stage two result
Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey
Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?
Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec
Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win
Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage 12
Stage 11
Stage 11
Stage 10
Stage nine
Stage eight
Stage seven
Stage six
Stage five
Stage four
Stage three
Stage two
Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: BLOGS

Life at the Tour part three
Life at the Tour part two
Life at the Tour part one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

Tour de France 2008 homepage>>
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