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DENIZLI, Turkey (VN) — Taking an extra week off in the month of April seems to have paid off for Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) after being shut out in the classics following an illness he picked up in South Africa. The “Missile” is firing on all cylinders at the 51st Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey after earning consecutive wins on the opening two stages.
Cavendish’s leadout man Mark Renshaw told VeloNews earlier in the week the Brit had “extra focus” and is in better shape that last year.
The 29-year-old Isle of Man native opened the 2015 campaign with a stage win at the Tour de San Luis and two stage victories at the Dubai Tour — along with both the general and points classifications at the desert race.
Cavendish went winless in four races after posting back-to-back victories at Clasica de Almeria in mid-February and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on the first of March.
A 14th-place finish on stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico was the best result the 2011 world road race champion could muster over the week-long stage race he did not finish before recording two bunch finishes and another DNF at Milano-Sanremo (46th), Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) (61st), and Gent-Wevelgem, respectively.
With two sprint stages remaining on the final two days in Turkey, Cavendish still has an opportunity to equal his 2014 race numbers of four wins and the points classification.
With the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France looming, Cavendish — who is the third all-time stage winner at the Tour with 25 wins — took it to two-time reigning German national champion André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) on two of the Tour of Turkey’s three sprint stages before Greipel abandoned the race following his win on stage 4 to focus on the Giro.
However, Cavendish has yet to face Greipel’s compatriot Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), who has not raced since the Tour of Qatar in early February and has yet to record a win this season — aside for the People’s Choice Criterium prior to the Santos Tour Down Under in January.
“I know if I was in the same position as [Kittel] was and I hadn’t raced in five months, you’d all be saying it’s the end of my career,” Cavendish said of his 26-year-old rival and eight-time Tour de France stage winner. “I’ve always had a thing, even when I’m sick or coming back, I’ve always raced.
“I am a professional bike rider and I’m paid money by my team and I have to represent my team, so even when I’ve been ill I’ve always gone raced and perhaps not gotten good results … I’ve always got wins in the back of my head.”
Now back on track, Cavendish said he’s feeling strong and motivated heading into his final Tour preparations at the Amgen Tour of California (May 10-17) and the Tour de Suisse (June 13-21).
“I’m happy to come here with Etixx-Quick-Step,” said Cavendish, who has won the points title in all three grand tours. “Tom [Boonen] is coming back from injury and I’m starting to build up my form for the Tour and we’re getting the leadout right so things are pretty good.
“We had an incredibly successful start to the season, and Etixx-Quick-Step is the team that has won the most races. If you look at the top 3 finishes, it’s way beyond what any other team has done.
“I think the team is bringing it together across the board in sprints, classics, and small stage races.”
When asked about his goals for the Tour in July, Cavendish, who said it was “disappointing” to crash out on the first stage last year, was quick to respond.
“I’m asked that question once a week,” he said. “I win the green jersey by winning stages so I’ll go and concentrate on winning stages.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.