Cycling - Cavendish: Cycling has cleaned up

EXCLUSIVE: Mark Cavendish says cycling is now drug-free, allowing sprinters to compete in increasingly difficult races.

Cavendish's 23 career Tour de France stage wins put him fourth on the all-time list, and his four straight victories on the Champs-Elysees are testament to his sprinting pedigree.

The Manxman told Eurosport in an exclusive interview that race organisers are setting harder courses, but that the decline of doping means the sprinters can still survive.

Cavendish plans to increase his Tour de France sprinting legacy in this year’s edition - his first in Omega Pharma-Quick Step colours since leaving Team Sky - and also intends to go all-out at May’s Giro.

The interview in full will be aired on British Eurosport HD at a later date, but for now here are the 27-year-old’s thoughts on life at OPQS, adding to his collection of jerseys and his affinity with Paris’s most famous avenue, to mark the beginning of Eurosport’s 'Toursday’ every Thursday between now and the 100th Tour, beginning on June 29…

Eurosport: How is life at OPQS so far?

Mark Cavendish: OPQS is incredible. I’m really, really happy. It’s a successful and passionate team, and I love that. I’ve had the most successful start to a season since I turned professional, we’re the team with the most wins at this stage of the season so far compared to any other team, which I hope continues.

E: So is the passion and history part of the reason you joined?

MC: For sure, it really had a big bearing. Last year they were the most successful team in every aspect of cycling except the Grand Tours, and I specialise in Grand Tour stages so it was a good fit to go there.

E: With that in mind, what are you aiming for this year?

MC: The Tour de France is the biggest goal, that’s what I’m aiming to peak for, but obviously I want to be successful the rest of the way. I had a good Milan-San Remo and hopefully a good Gent-Wevelgem, obviously I want to go to the Giro and wear the pink jersey, and win stages there. Then hopefully I can go to the Tour and make that the highlight of the year.

E: So for the Giro do you plan to go all the way or are you going to use it as a way to get the lead-out train going?

MC: I’m using it to win stages. I’m not going there just to ride around or to prepare for anything, it’s the Giro d’Italia - it’s one of the biggest bike races in the world. The organisers at RCS are good friends of mine and I really support what they do. We’re going there with a dedicated team, not just for the sprints but across the board, we definitely want to be successful there.

It starts with a sprint, where I could get the pink jersey, then a team time trial, where OPQS are the world champions. Then one of the stages is in Florence close to where I live, then it’s onto the mountains.

E: Last year you missed out on the points jersey by one point. Does that give you more motivation this year?

MC: Not really. The thing about the Tour de France is that the points jersey is geared towards the sprinters, whereas in the Giro and Vuelta it’s not. I’ll try, but with points jerseys there are always guys like Peter Sagan who can win on different terrains.

I just have to look at winning stages, and if the jersey comes from that, that’s what happens and that’s the objective I want to take.

E: Are OPQS looking to build a train for you to help you win the stages?

MC: We are looking to build a train, but we won’t be taking a dedicated lead-out team to the Tour de France. We never did with HTC, although the majority of the time we won the sprints, they were all guys who were a good lead-out but could also win on their own accord.

We want to be as successful as possible and we try to help each other out, like I try and help out the guys in the mountains. If you go with nine guys looking to win every stage, then you’re going to be pretty successful.

E: The recent Milan–San Remo and its weather issues must not have been one of the greatest experiences of your career.

MC: It was grim. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Cross Country skiing gets cancelled at -10, we were racing at -3. Even with glasses you couldn’t see because the snow was settling on them, and when you took them off you could only see a few feet in front of you.

It was just horrible. My hands lost complete feeling I couldn’t undo my shoes, my feet also swelled up. Was all round a pretty forgettable experience.

E: How are you developing as a rider as you get older, how are you adapting to the world of cycling?

MC: I’m still a sprinter, that’s what I’m always going to be employed for. Definitely as you get older you get stronger. It’s quite strange, the older and stronger I get the harder they’re making the races. Cycling’s evolving so more and more teams can control races, so the organisers don’t think it’s hard enough so they make the courses more difficult.

It’s the reason sprinters are able to hang on now, is because cycling has cleaned up, there’s no people doing stupid things on drugs anymore, so the peloton will stay relatively together and gives the sprinters a better chance.

E: What do you make of the race radio discussion? Do you think they should be banned or do you think maybe one per team, do you think that will make a difference?

MC: That’s a stupid thing. The radio discussion is really with people who haven’t ridden bikes before. For me I don’t care if we have a radio or not. It’s not like playing chess, you know. Anyone can write on their forums that it’s bad without a radio.

All we hear in the radio is when danger’s coming up, and the time gaps, but it’s not like we rely on it as we know what we’ve got to do. It doesn’t bother me, but if I had choice one way or the other I’d say keep them just because it’s safer. But it’s never been a factor in my wins or losses.

E: The first Tour stage in Corsica is a sprint stage, so have you thought about potentially putting on the yellow jersey?

MC: I have thought about wearing the yellow jersey. I’ve worn the pink jersey in the Giro and the red jersey at the Vuelta. The last time the first stage of the Tour ended in a bunch sprint was in the mid-60s. So it’s not just me who hasn’t had the opportunity – many, many sprinters haven’t.

This was more possible when they still offered time bonuses, but they took those away a few years ago. I would really like the opportunity; obviously it’s not a given and I have to work for it, but I think it’s definitely something worth building my season around.

E: What emotions do you experience when you are sprinting down the Champs Elysees to take victory?

MC: I can’t explain it. I’m sorry that I can’t come up with a romantic answer, but I just can’t explain it.

It’s just something you have to experience. It’s very special and in the grand scheme of things very few people know what it’s like.

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From now until the start of the 2013 Tour de France on June 29, British Eurosport are designating each Thursday as ‘Toursday’: an opportunity for cycling fans to come together and discuss the sport as we count down the 100 days until the 100th edition of its premier event.

To join in on Toursday, follow @EurosportUKTV on Twitter and use the hash tag #toursday.