Mark Cavendish says that Roger Hammond gave him advice on how to ride in the Qatari crosswinds the night before his stage victory
Placed with in a strong group of pre-race favourites, he out-sprinted the likes of Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), both previously stage winners in Qatar.
Cavendish is no novice here himself. Indeed, he is one of only two riders present in this year’s Tour of Qatar who have previously won the general classification, when with Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 2013. The other is team mate Mark Renshaw (2011).
Cavendish was not expecting a mass finish, no “roll round bunch sprint race”. As is the way in Qatar, wind wrought havoc on the peloton, leaving a group of 21 to fight for victory and the gold leader’s jersey at Al Khor Corniche.
Though the gap between the front group and chasers diminished and a catch looked possible, Cavendish was able to position himself perfectly on Kristoff’s wheel before launching his sprint along the barrier.
We have become accustomed to Cavendish praising the efforts of his team, whoever he is riding for, and he did the same today: “It was a real team effort,” he predictably told reporters after the podium ceremony.
“It’s really nice, Dimension Data’s first win of the year. You can’t win here in Qatar without a strong team, it’s really not possible, not just a strong team in the sprint, but a strong team throughout the day.”
One new member of that team – one of Dimension Data’s two sports directors – Roger Hammond gave Cavendish a little extra motivation.
“He was the guy that looked after me when I first turned professional,” Cavendish said of Hammond. “The first year we rode together, he won at this finish, and it’s nice to come full circle and Roger’s now my director.
“I said this morning I want to win here as a hat-tip to Roger. I’m 30 years old and I didn’t think I needed to learn any more, but half the stuff in my head now I learnt only last night from Roger.”
Hammond himself was not forthcoming with what gem of knowledge he had imparted, but his pedigree in this race is impeccable.
“This was one of the races I knew how to ride,” explained Hammond. “I had six years of riding in the crosswinds with Cervélo and Garmin and you get to know how to do it quite well. With Cervélo, we never missed a break, so we were always in the front, so we know how to do it, kind of.
“Obviously you still need to have good team and this team are really strong, they helped Mark they, know what their jobs were and he was able to finish it off.”
Now his boss, but also a friend and former team mate, Hammond is able to add a little insight into Cavendish the person.
“He lived with me when he turned pro, so I’ve seen Cav in is lowest moments when he was having a real struggle and ahead time. He comes across sometimes as difficult, but he lived with us for just over a year, out of all the riders that stayed with me, my wife would always say he’s the most polite, the most courteous and the most conscientious.”
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As a rider, Hammond sees the same person. “That fire in his eyes is still there. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think he had that fire in his eyes. What he wants to do this year, that’s not someone looking at the twilight of their career and winding down, that’s someone who is full of ambition, full of fight.”
That fight was evident today. As the winds hit, guided by his team Cavendish was in the right place at the right time. And, while Wednesday’s time trial may scupper his GC chances, expect to see him fighting all week.