Tour de France: Mark Cavendish primed for wind and rain challenges

Two years since his last stage victory at the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish was set to start Sunday`s second stage to Zeland as favourite to win the dash to the line.

Tour de France: Mark Cavendish primed for wind and rain challenges

Two years since his last stage victory at the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish was set to start Sunday`s second stage to Zeland as favourite to win the dash to the line.

The 30-year-old Briton is out for revenge after his hopes during the 2014 race were dashed on the opening stage when he crashed in the sprint finish and separated his shoulder, abandoning the Tour before the start of the second stage a day later.

With 25 stage wins to his name, the Manx Missile is just three short of Bernard Hinault in second place on the overall list behind Belgian great Eddy Merckx`s impressive record of 34.

The man who was the main bain to Cavendish`s hopes in 2013, when the Briton won just two stages, Marcel Kittel is absent for this year`s race after his Giant-Alpecin team decided he wasn`t fit enough to compete following a season upset by illness.

The German had won four stages on each of the last two editions of the Grand Boucle but his absence opens up the field.

Cavendish will not have it all his own way with the likes of Norway`s Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan of Slovakia, German John Degenkolb and home hope Nacer Bouhanni all blessed with a turn of pace in the final sprint.

But Cavendish is determined to get back to winning ways and says he is up to the task.

"We`ve looked at trying to come to the Tour de France in the same form as I was in last year and hopefully get back to winning ways," he said before the Grand Boucle began.

The Etixx-Quick Step sprinter has been in fine form this year, winning a stage at the Tour de San Luis, two more and the overall title at the Dubai Tour, three at the Tour of Turkey and four in the Tour of California, while he also claimed victory in the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne one-day race in February.

But he will likely have more than just his rivals to cope with on the pan-flat 166km run from Utrecht to Zeland.

Already a couple of hours before the start of the stage there was a huge downpour just outside Utrecht and showers are expected throughout the afternoon.

That, coupled with the likelihood of crosswinds coming off the North Sea as the peloton follows the coast, means it will likely be a nervous day and perilous trip across the Netherlands.

Both the teams of the sprinters hoping for a stage victory and those of the overall contenders will be looking to keep their men near the front and out of trouble, and the potential pitfall of a split in the peloton.

Anyone caught behind the split would not only see their stage victory hopes go up in smoke but would risk losing significant time by the finish.

It means there will likely be a fast pace throughout the day with jostling for position making crashes a distinct possibility.

Many riders will also be tasked simply with protecting their team leader, such as Orica GreenEdge`s Luke Durbridge.

"My role, this week especially, is to try to use my big shoulders as a wind block along the coast to protect the guys," said the Australian.

A breakaway is very unlikely to make it all the way to the finish and will likely be gobbled up long before then, but following Saturday`s opening stage timetrial, won by Australian Rohan Dennis, who will wear yellow on Sunday, many teams will be eager to get a rider in the breakaway to gain some early publicity.

It means the break-neck pace will start right from the off until finally a breakaway group sticks and starts to build a lead over the peloton.

A bunch sprint, perhaps from a reduced field, is a near certainty, but that won`t make the day`s racing any less chaotic.

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