DUBAI // When seven of Dubai Tour’s most sought-after riders posed for photos at Meydan Racecourse on Tuesday afternoon, one man stood out like a blistered thumb.
Vincenzo Nibali, John Degenkolb, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Gang Xu and Badr Mohammed Alhammadi all wore T-shirts or polos branded with sponsors.
The man with the curly brown hair and thick-rimmed spectacles opted instead for a grey cardigan over a plain white T-shirt, despite the temperature being recorded at 26 degrees Celsius.
Mark Cavendish is clearly cut from a different cloth. Born on the Isle of Man, the 29-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best sprinters to ever contest the Tour de France. It is a billing he immodestly agrees with, which rightly or wrongly results in him being labelled as arrogant.
He is who he is though: rarely does he bite his tongue, always says what he feels, occasionally it results in him being cast as rude, other times endearing.
At Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) on Tuesday, the seven riders sat in a news conference.
While Nibali – the reigning Tour de France champion – dismissed suggestions of feeling undervalued and how he must pay attention to everybody, Cavendish smirked and sniggered and paid attention to nobody.
When his turn to speak arrived he gave an answer that toed a fine line between pedestrian and provocative.
Reporter: “What indication are we going to get as to the form of the sprinters over the next four days?”
Cavendish: “I don’t know. I think, regardless, you journalists make up what you want about the form of the sprinters anyway. Anything can happen in a sprint, so you can’t really judge a sprinter’s form on the sprint. There is a good group of us sprinters here: John [Degenkolb] is here, so is [Andrea] Guardini and, er, a couple of others. So we should see some good races here.”
Today’s first stage begins at 11.55am at DIMC and runs past the Westin, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Jebel Ali and Al Maktoum International Airport, before looping back and passing the Burj Al Arab, Umm Suqeim Beach and Jumeirah Mosque. It culminates, after 145 kilometres, at the Union Flag House.
While Cavendish said he is here to win a few stages and see where he ends up in the overall classification, Degenkolb said he is looking to use the week as much for training purposes as chasing podiums.
The race has been extended by about 30 per cent, but the German rider intends to push himself further in a bid to prepare for some of the year’s more prestigious European races.
“I’m very happy the stages are quite long,” he said. “The intensity of the race is way higher than last year. It’s good to train longer and we also have an opportunity to go for an extra hour on the bike before or after the stage in order to train endurance for the classics.
“Hopefully, I’ll be involved in some sprints, get in one or two good fights and perhaps get a nice result.”
Cavendish seemed ready for a fight, too. When asked about his targets for the upcoming year, the Briton replied: “To only talk to journalists who have done their own research.”
He then spun on his heels and disappeared into the crowd.
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