A cautious Mark Cavendish yesterday refused to get drawn into talking up his chances of what would be an emotional Tour de France victory into Harrogate tomorrow afternoon.
Britain’s most prolific stage winner has 25 wins to his name in the great race, the third most in history, but none would create a greater story than if he were to cross the line first in his mother’s home town.
A victory would also give him the yellow jersey for the first time, all of which is added pressure the 29-year-old Briton has been keen to deflect.
The Manx Missile as he is known, has kept a low profile leading up to what would be the most emotional of stage victories for him, given the interest surrounding his relationship with Harrogate, where he used to holiday as a child.
And he maintained that distance yesterday in front of the world’s media, preferring to shift the focus onto the strength of his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mates.
He is being mindful perhaps of two years ago when he spoke at length about his desire to win the Olympic road race in London, only for that dream to come crashing down around him.
Cavendish said: “It’s incredible that for the second time in my career the UK’s got the Grand Depart of the Tour de France.
“The first stage finishes in my mother’s home town. It’s really exciting.
“But the Tour de France is 21 stages long. We’ve got an incredibly strong Omega Pharma-QuickStep team and we’d like to be successful throughout the three weeks.”
Asked for his memories of holidaying in Harrogate during his childhood, Cavendish added: “I remember being here in Harrogate for many summers.
“My grandparents live here and my uncle still lives here. It’s nice to look around the places I knew when I was young.
“I would like to win it (stage one). There’s still 20 days to go after Saturday and we’d like to finish with a successful Tour de France.”
A strong contingent of sprinters is out to deny Cavendish, and the headline writers, the perfect story tomorrow afternoon.
Marcel Kittel out-sprinted him last year, the German winning four stages to Cavendish’s two, while Slovakia’s Peter Sagan has won the green jersey awarded to the leading sprinter in the points classification, the last two years.
Andre Greipel, Cavendish’s long-time rival, is also in good form, meaning as well as the many intangibles thrown up by a 200km opening stage, Cavendish knows nothing can be taken for granted – hence his caution.
“There’s always things that go right and wrong in the Tour de France. It’s not a given,” said the 29-year-old former world champion.
“There’s 200 bike riders on the start line and every one of those would like to win the race and get their arms into the yellow jersey.
“The Tour de France is 21 days long. It doesn’t begin and end in Yorkshire. It would be nice to wear the yellow jersey because I’ve not yet done that. But there’s a great collection of sprinters at the Tour de France this year.
“The peloton is at a high at the minute. The speeds we’re racing at shows a step up in what cycling is.
“I feel in good condition for the Tour de France.
“I’ve had nine wins this year and the team’s won close to 50 already. We’ve been super successful this whole season.”
Cavendish did elaborate when talking about the interest in the Grand Depart in Yorkshire, suggesting it would be bigger than the one staged in London seven years ago, the last time Britain hosted the opening chapter of the world’s greatest bike race.
Cavendish was quick to acknowledge the massive interest in the race shown by the people of Yorkshire, who have demonstrated in the last few months and in the days leading up to the race, how they have embraced cycling.
“Yellow Yorkshire” has been a theme of the build-up and Cavendish admitted he had been impressed with the welcome.
He said: “The support that not just Yorkshire, but the whole of the UK, has for this Grand Depart is phenomenal.
“It’s like something I’ve never seen. People who rode the Tour de France when it started in London in 2007 still talk about it.
“And I think Yorkshire is going to out-do that.”
Cavendish is one of just four Britons on the startline in Leeds tomorrow, compared to seven when the Tour was last in Britain seven years ago.
They are numbers that go against the general consensus that cycling is booming in Britain, with Cavendish admitting it is disappointing that former winner Sir Bradley Wiggins, and long-time Tour stalwart David Millar, are not in the race.
“In an ideal world, I would have liked to have seen more Brits at this Tour de France,” said Cavendish.
“Great Britain has been successful in the last years in world cycling and that is a massive part of why the Tour has come to the UK. I would have liked to have seen a few more riders, namely Bradley, David, and the guys who are Grand Tour stage winners.
“But Chris Froome is here and he is defending champion and that is going to be incredible for the fans. Hopefully, Britain can give cycling a good show.”