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Tour de France sprint legend Erik Zabel fears Mark Cavendish’s dream of following in his footsteps and winning the race’s green jersey may be over already.
The HTC-Columbia sprinter came into this year’s race aiming to dominate the points competition after finishing last year with an amazing six stage wins.
But after four days Cavendish is last in the competition with a 62-point deficit to the man he dueled with last year – Cervélo TestTeam’s Thor Hushovd.
Cavendish stunned his team bosses on stage 1 by missing a turn and crashing as Hushovd went on to pick up points for second place behind stage winner Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre).
He was then left behind a crash on stage 3 as Hushovd surged to victory over the cobbles to claim maximum points and possession of the green jersey.
Zabel admitted that in all his years of competing for the green jersey, a prize he won six times, he never had to fight his way back from such a big deficit.
“I was behind, 20 points, 25 maximum. But it’s an unspoken rule in the Tour that you can miss one stage, be 30, 35 points behind and it’s still no problem because the (other) sprinters can have some bad luck,” Zabel told AFP Wednesday.
“But now, 62 points, it’s a lot.”
Hushovd secured his second green jersey last year after a controversial duel with Cavendish, who was declassified on one stage for trying to barge the Norwegian into the barriers.
Hushovd continued to pick up points at the finish-line sprints, but also went on the attack in the mountains to gobble up the smaller, still precious points at the intermediate sprints.
Although he works as an adviser to Cavendish at HTC-Columbia, Zabel feels Hushovd’s lead may already be unassailable.
“Realistically, Thor Hushovd is strong and he’s also a smart guy so he knows how to protect his jersey,” added the German. “Now they’ve got a stage win, and the green jersey, they can sit back a bit.
“Today, it’s nearly impossible for the rest of the sprinters like (Tyler) Farrar, or (Gerald) Ciolek to get closer to the green jersey because the gap is so big.
“You never know in the Tour. Even Thor can make a mistake or have bad luck, but realistically those chances are low.”