Mark Cavendish, the iconic sprinter, is gearing up for a remarkable comeback at the 2024 Tour de France with an ambitious goal in mind: clinching his 35th stage victory to solidify his legendary status. However, the route unveiled for the upcoming Tour has left the Manxman visibly taken aback, as he expressed his astonishment at the level of difficulty.
In an exclusive interview with multiple media outlets, including Het Nieuwsblad and GCN, Cavendish revealed his initial shock, saying, "It's so hard. I am actually in a bit of shock. It might be the hardest route I've ever seen at the Tour de France." The race organizer, ASO, has laid out a challenging course comprising eight flat stages, four hilly stages, seven gruelling mountain stages, and two demanding time trials, spanning three intense weeks of racing.
Despite the presence of flat stages, sprint opportunities seem scarce, overshadowed by the formidable mountains that demand immense effort for a chance at victory. The inclusion of mid-stage time bonuses of eight, five, and two seconds adds a layer of complexity to the competition.
Sprinters like Cavendish may find their chances limited, with the first sprint opportunity on stage 3 to Turin. While other opportunities arise on stages 5 and 6, stage 9 introduces a new challenge with 14 gravel sectors. Additionally, potential echelons could disrupt stages 10 and 16, while the mountainous terrain on stage 12 to Pau is another obstacle.
Sprint Challenges on Grueling Terrain
All the mountain stages promise suffering for sprinters and their lead-out teams, making the pursuit of sprint victories a formidable task. Cavendish commented on the scarcity of sprint opportunities, stating, "There's a few, but you've got to get to them, that's the problem.
I think Turin should offer the chance for sprinters. This is perhaps the toughest course I have ever seen during a Tour de France." Cavendish has been training extensively in central Tuscany and is looking forward to the Grand Depart in Florence.
However, the opening stage to Rimini, featuring 3,600 meters of altitude gain over the Apennines, presents a significant challenge for sprinters like him. Despite the gruelling route, Cavendish's determination remains unwavering.
He made a remarkable return to racing at the end of the 2023 season during the Tour of Turkey, following surgery for a complex fracture. His crash in the 2023 Tour de France, just a day after securing second place in the Bordeaux sprint, prompted him to reconsider his retirement plans and aim for the 2024 Tour.
Astana Qazaqstan, his team for 2024, has assembled a formidable lead-out train to support Cavendish's sprint ambitions. Notable additions to the team include key lead-out man Michael Mørkøv, Davide Ballerini from Soudal-QuickStep, Max Kanter from Movistar, and Rüdiger Selig from Lotto-Dstny.
As Cavendish prepares for his comeback at the Tour de France, cycling enthusiasts worldwide eagerly await the unfolding drama on the challenging 2024 route. His journey to claim the 35th stage victory promises to be a story worth following closely.
Cavendish's 2023 season will conclude with the Tour de France criteriums in Singapore and Saitama, Japan, showcasing his enduring commitment to the sport.
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