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SIERRA NEVADA, Spain (VN) — Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) pulled out of a sweltering Vuelta a España on Tuesday’s climbing stage to Sierra Nevada.
The sprinter was struggling with temperatures in the high 90s and the challenging opening stages of a Vuelta route tailored for the climbers.
HTC-Highroad sport director Jens Zemke said Cavendish was spent from the effort of the first four days of racing.
“He had nothing left. He was totally empty,” Zemke told VeloNews. “He said he was so tired he could have fallen asleep in the car. It was 40C on the road today. He had no more power and could not continue.”
The sprinter — who still has not revealed which team he will be racing for next season — was gapped midway through Tuesday’s stage and abandoned on the Cat. 3 Puerto de los Blancares.
Cavendish ducked into an HTC-Highroad team car and hid underneath a race jacket as Spanish journalists tried to take photographs of his early exit.
Zemke insisted that Cavendish wanted to come to the Vuelta to race and prepare for the worlds and that the team, which is folding at the end of the 2011 season, did not force him to start his third grand tour of the season.
“It was Mark who said he wanted to come to the Vuelta. He said he wanted to win at least one stage and prepare for the worlds,” Zemke continued. “Mark is the kind of rider who, when he says that, he means it.”
Since winning five stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France, Cavendish only raced one day before the start of the Vuelta, winning the Olympic test event in London a week before the Vuelta started.
He was never a factor in any of the opening four stages. He lost the wheel in the team time trial on Saturday and then missed out in the opening sprint in stage 2 when he couldn’t match the pace in the final kilometer against headwinds and a steep kicker.
On Monday, he was dropped in the first of two third-category climbs and finished more than 12 minutes off the winning pace.
“Maybe he was tired from the effort of the Tour, maybe he still hasn’t full recovered,” Zemke said. “We will talk with Mark and the doctors will check him out to see if he’s OK. He is not sick now.”
Cavendish’s early exit hardly bodes well for preparation for the upcoming world championships, set for a sprinter’s course in Copenhagen two weeks after the Vuelta concludes.
UCI rules state that a rider who abandons a race cannot start another event until the race he quit comes to a conclusion. That would mean that Cavendish couldn’t race again until September 11, but rules also say that race officials from the race the rider quit – in this case, the Vuelta – can give the OK to allow the rider to resume racing earlier.
“If he wants to do the worlds, we can build a program to get him into some races so he can race,” Zemke said. “But that is up to him. He has to decide if he can reach another peak again this season to try to win the world championships.”
HTC-Highroad lost Aussie sprinter Matt Goss in stage 2 after he succumbed to a bad stomach.
“We still have (Leigh) Howard and (John) Degenkolb for the sprints, but it’s not an ideal situation because they are both racing their first grand tour. We knew with Goss and Cav we could win stages,” Zemke said. “We also have (Konstanstin Sivtsov) now in sixth and Martin (Velits) was good today, so we still have a lot of chances in this Vuelta.”
If Cavendish doesn’t find the motivation to recharge his batteries in time for the world championships, this Vuelta could be the last race for him in an HTC-Highroad jersey.