Endurance: Mark Cavendish

Mark CavendishBryn Lennon/Getty ImagesMark Cavendish wasn't shy in celebrating his win in Stage 5 last week. (Enough with the Brits, already!)
Random thoughts after the first rest day of the Tour de France while hoping that I’m never behind the Orica-Greenedge team bus heading into a tunnel ...

Sigh. Maybe It’s Time For 7-Eleven To Sponsor A Team Again: The Tour’s individual stage winners, in order, have been Germany’s Marcel Kittel, Belgium’s Jan Bakelants, Australia’s Simon Gerrans, England’s Mark Cavendish, Germany’s Andre Greipel, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, Britain’s Chris Froome (who was born in Kenya and grew up in Africa), Ireland’s Dan Martin and Kittel again. The yellow jersey has been worn by Kittel, Bakelants, Gerrans, South Africa’s Daryl Impey and Froome. That’s a pretty impressive United Nations of riders, representing eight countries (and two from Africa), if you count Kenya for Froome.

Two countries conspicuously absent? The United States and France.

A French rider, of course, hasn’t won the Tour since 1985, though France did win five stages last year and Thomas Voeckler was in yellow for 10 stages in 2011. American riders, however, have won only one stage in the past six Tours (sprinter Tyler Farrar, Stage 3 in 2011) and haven’t had anyone in yellow since Floyd Landis in 2006 -- a jersey he was quickly stripped of because of doping. Technically, the last American in yellow was Greg LeMond in 1991.

The U.S. won’t have anyone in yellow this year either, though Andrew Talansky, the current top American in the standings (25th and 11:15 behind Froome), could wear white as the top young rider.

Meanwhile, Christian Vande Velde crashed out and Ted King was eliminated by falling seven seconds outside the limit in the team time trial. Tejay van Garderen, perhaps the most promising American rider heading into the Tour, suffered from the heat in a terrible Stage 8 and is 50th, 35 minutes behind. Tom Danielson and Brent Bookwalter are the only other Americans still in the race.

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Tony Martin poised to rule clock in '13

February, 13, 2013
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Tony MartinFranck Fife/AFP/Getty ImagesTony Martin is confident he can overcome an injury- and illness-plagued 2012 season.
Tony Martin is poised to be the king of the chrono for 2013.

The 27-year-old German says he's entering the sweet spot of his career and rides into a new season intent on confirming his status as the peloton's top time trialist.

"I want to try to win every major time trial I race this year," Martin told VeloNews. "I know I will not win them all. The goal is to be competitive in every time trial and try to win."

The Omega Pharma star will get his first test this week at the Volta ao Algarve (Tour of the Algarve), which opens Thursday on Portugal's southern coast.

Teammate Mark Cavendish will be looking to win sprints in the first two stages while the second-category finale up Alto do Malhao will set up the GC in stage 3. The final-day TT, at 34.8 kilometers, will provide Martin with a good litmus test on whether his ambitions will match up with his fitness.

Martin debuted last week at the Challenge Mallorca, but he will have his first chance to ride in his world champion time trial stripes on Sunday.

"I am ready to race. The big goals are the Tour [de France] and the world title," Martin said. "I would also like to do well in some smaller stage races. I want to have a good year. Last year, I had some bad luck."

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Andre Greipel quickly sets the pace

January, 23, 2013
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GreipelMark Gunter/AFP/Getty ImagesAndre Greipel's Lotto train could prove a formidable obstacle for Mark Cavendish and Co. this year.
ADELAIDE, Australia -- Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) picked up where he left off last season, with his big brawny arms flexed in victory salute on Tuesday.

The German ace made easy work of his rivals to win for the second time in three days to claim the opening stage of the 15th Santos Tour Down Under. He won Sunday evening's prologue criterium with equal ease.

"It's nice to win the first races of the season. It shows that we are working well together," Greipel said. "It's easier when we have the same guys as last year. We already know how to work together. I hope that means we can win a lot."

Greipel has emerged as the lone rider capable of challenging Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) for supremacy in the bunch sprints. Others are nipping at their heels, including Peter Sagan (Cannondale), but right now the battle of the trains looks to be Cavendish versus Greipel.

Cavendish also won his first race for his new team in the opening stage of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, setting the stage for what could be a season-long showdown between the two former High Road teammates.

In Australia, Lotto returns with its crack leadout train, which delivered three stage wins in last year's Tour de France, fully intact. Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson, Marcel Sieberg and Jurgen Roelandts are all back and gunning for Greipel in the bunch sprints.

"We are the only team to completely commit to just one sprinter, Andre," Hansen said. "The team knows that if we do our job, Andre will be hard to beat. We are all very comfortable working together."

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Cav has choice words for Lance inquisitor

January, 16, 2013
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Lance Armstrong, Mark Cavendish and Andy SchleckLionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty ImagesTo hear him tell it, Mark Cavendish (left) has had it with questions about Lance Armstrong.
GHENT, Belgium -- The Lance Armstrong doping scandal is cutting a large swath across cycling and it's being particularly felt in cycling-crazed Flanders.

The Armstrong affair was dominating the airwaves on Belgian radio Tuesday following reports that he had admitted he doped during his career.

For riders and staff attending the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team presentation, being held inside the modern Eddy Merckx velodrome on Tuesday in snowy Ghent, the Armstrong scandal was something that was inevitable to come up.

Mark Cavendish didn't take lightly to being queried about the brewing controversy. Following the team's 1 1/2-hour team presentation to about 150 members of the media, journalists converged on the former world champion for reaction.

Cavendish, who has been outspoken in the past about the doping issue, lost his patience when journalists queried him about a looming Armstrong confession.

At first, he said he wouldn't comment until he heard the confession for himself. Later, when another journalist asked him again for reaction, ITV quoted Cavendish as reacting angrily.

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Analysis: Giro revives bonus debate

November, 22, 2012
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Joaquim RodriguezGian Mattia D'Alberto/Icon SMIStage 16 winner Joaquim Rodriguez might've won it all had the Giro offered full time bonuses in 2012.
Sprinters love them, GC riders who have no finishing kick hate them; either way, time bonuses add an unquestionable dynamic to any stage race that includes them.

The Giro d'Italia this week announced it would return to full time bonuses on all road stages during next year's corsa rosa in a move that reignites the debate on whether they truly heighten the action or unfairly distort the final outcome.

After experimenting in 2012 by eliminating the bonuses in five decisive mountain stages, viewed as a way to decrease their collective impact on the GC, the Giro has gone back to full bonuses in all stages except time trials. It also adds a second "hot" sprint with bonuses in each stage.

That move, clearly designed to spice up the racing even more, comes on the heels of one of the tightest GC fights ever in a modern Giro, when Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal eked out a 16-second victory margin over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). Had the full bonuses been in place, at least under the calculus set for 2013, Rodriguez would have won by four seconds.

Many suggested that Rodriguez gifted the win to Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) in stage 15 when the pair arrived to the line at Pian dei Resinelli because no bonuses were in play.

Rabottini had been in an all-day break and Rodriguez attacked to drop Hesjedal on the steep finale and caught him with 400 meters to go. As one of the five stages without time bonuses, Rodriguez was content to get the time and seemed to let Rabottini take the win. Rodriguez immediately denied gifting the stage, but he told VeloNews that day if there had been bonuses, "I would have tried harder to be first across the line."

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Eisel, Cav: A professional parting of ways

November, 19, 2012
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Mark Cavendish and Bernhard EiselGraham Watson/www.grahamwatson.com Teammates, roommates and friends, Mark Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel had been together since '07.
Bernhard Eisel says Mark Cavendish remains his best friend. But next year, he and the Manxster will square off in opposing jerseys.

Cavendish's high-profile move to Omega Pharma-Quick Step last month put Eisel on the spot. While Cavendish grated at Sky last season, Eisel found himself feeling right at home -- so much so that the popular Austrian signed a deal to stay with Sky through 2015.

Staying with the British ProTeam meant saying goodbye to Cavendish. For Eisel, the choice wasn't easy, but it was the right one for him.

"I have had so many good times with Cav over the years, but it came down to where I wanted to be," Eisel told VeloNews. "He said he didn't want to stay (at Sky) anymore. I tried to convince him, but there wasn't a solution. It was hard leaving my best friend, but it is my life."

Eisel and Cavendish have been joined at the hip since 2007, with the Austrian acting as a pilot and mentor both in and out of the high-speed bunch sprints at High Road. Cavendish quickly developed into the world's best sprinter and Eisel was the consistent shepherd at his side.

Eisel was the only former High Road teammate to follow him to Sky at the end of last season, but while Cavendish chafed at Sky, Eisel found he thrived in the team's professionalism, organization and new ways of thinking.

For Cavendish, it was a question of having the support he wants and needs for the bunch sprints. With Sky clearly backing Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome going forward, the Manxman's honeymoon at the British team was short-lived.

His move to Omega Pharma reunites Cav with former High Road teammates Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch and the Velits twins. But Eisel will not be there.

"That was the hardest part, telling Cav. I had to say, 'Sorry, buddy, I am not going with you,'" Eisel said. "I tried to convince him to stay at Sky, and he tried to convince me so many times to go with him. In the end, it's kind of a sad story, but we will always still be best friends."

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