Cavendish quits to put Olympics first
Mark Cavendish confirmed last night that he was abandoning the Tour de France to prepare for next month's Rio Olympics, admitting it had got to the point where it "would have a detrimental impact" on his chances of landing a medal.
The Manx rider, who rolled back the years by claiming four stages of this year's race for his South African team Dimension Data - including the opening one which landed him the yellow jersey for the first time in his career - had kept everyone in suspense by insisting following his latest win last weekend that he would ride on to Paris on Sunday "as long as the legs felt good".
His team spent all of yesterday's second rest day in Berne batting away questions regarding their star sprinter.
But quitting the race before the energy-sapping Alps (the Tour will today embark on four days in the mountains before finishing up on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday) was always the original plan. In fact, Cavendish - who won the final stage four times in a row from 2009-12 - might have made his exit sooner had he not been in such scintillating form.
British Cycling had an informal agreement with Dimension Data that Cavendish would leave before the end of the Tour in order to spend more time preparing on the track with the rest of the men's endurance squad, and continuing in France would have risked upsetting them as well as put his medal chances in jeopardy.
Cavendish is targeting the six-discipline omnium in Rio and may also ride in a round of the team pursuit alongside Bradley Wiggins. He will now spend a few days at home before heading to the cyclists' holding camp in Newport.
"After an extremely enjoyable and successful couple of weeks, it is with great sadness that I took the decision today to leave the race," Cavendish outlined in a statement. "After the heat and intensity of the previous stages, we analysed my fatigue levels and decided I'm at a point that would have a detrimental effect on my other big goal for the year, the Olympics."
Cavendish's team-mate Steve Cummings, meanwhile, was yesterday drafted into Team GB's men's road team in place of London 2012 team pursuit gold medallist Pete Kennaugh. Kennaugh decided to give up his place, admitting he was struggling for form after breaking his collarbone in May.
Cummings' original omission had been hugely controversial, given his excellent form over the past 12 months.
The Wirral-born rider had hit out at Rod Ellingworth, the GB men's road coach, when the selection was announced, accusing him of a "conflict of interest" given his role at Sky and arguing it was no surprise he had picked four Sky riders in Chris Froome, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Kennaugh, and only one non-Sky rider, Adam Yates.
Cummings (35) then took a stunning solo victory at Lac de Payolle in the first week of the Tour to further raise the pressure. It was his second Tour stage victory.
Ellingworth alluded to the fact that it had been difficult to anticipate which rider would be in the best form when the original selection was made.
"As always when selecting a team for a road race, the ideal situation is to leave the decision as late as possible as it's difficult to predict riders' form and health so far out," he said.
"Since the selection panel made the original decision, there's been 38 days of World Tour racing during which time we've had some excellent results from the British Cycling squad, for example we've had British riders wear the yellow, green and white jerseys at the Tour."
Kennaugh (27) said he was disappointed to miss out but wanted to do the honourable thing.
"London 2012 was one of the highlights of my career so I am gutted to be missing out on Rio but, knowing that I am not able to give my best, I felt it was my duty to withdraw," he stated.
Meanwhile, Chris Froome is braced for the battle for the yellow jersey to heat up as the Tour resumes today for its final week. Since Froome moved into the race lead on stage eight there have been surprisingly few attacks from his rivals, leaving him still one minute 47 seconds ahead of Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema with 16 stages gone.
Tour de France, Live, Eurosport/TG4/ITV4, 12.45