Mark Cavendish is focused on a successful three weeks at the Tour de France and on Thursday attempted to play down the chance to claim the race leader’s yellow jersey in his mother’s home town of Harrogate on Saturday.
The 190.5-kilometre opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate could thrust Cavendish into the race leader’s maillot jaune for the first time, if he can claim a 26th stage victory of his distinguished career. Eddy Merckx has the record of 34 stage wins.
The 29-year-old from the Isle of Man, whose mother Adele is from the Yorkshire town, is bidding to become the seventh Briton to lead the Tour, after Tom Simpson, Chris Boardman, Sean Yates, David Millar, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Cavendish said: “It would be nice to wear the yellow jersey. I’ve not yet done that.
“It’s not a given. There’s 200 bike riders, almost, on the start line and every one of those would like to wear the yellow jersey.
“(And) the Tour de France is 21 days long. It doesn’t begin and end in Yorkshire.
“We’ve got an incredibly strong Omega Pharma-QuickStep team and we’d like to be successful throughout the three weeks.”
Even Harrogate’s Coach and Horses pub has had a name change to Cvndsh and Horses for the Grand Depart to show its support.
Cavendish believes the 2014 Grand Depart will surpass London in 2007 – when he made his Tour debut – as a spectacle on the race’s fourth visit to the UK.
He added: “The support that not just Yorkshire, but the whole of the UK, has for this Grand Depart is phenomenal. It’s like something I’ve never seen.
“People who rode the Tour de France when it started in London in 2007 still talk about it.
“I think Yorkshire’s going to out-do that.”
Cavendish secured, by his high standards, a low return of just two stages of last year’s Tour as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) emerged as the premier sprinter with four wins.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) have also performed well in the bunch sprints in recent seasons and will challenge for yellow in Harrogate.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have won 25 stages of the Tour de France,” Cavendish said.
“It’s the biggest bike race in the world and to come here and be successful.
“One win in a rider’s career can make their career, let alone one win per year.
“I’d like to come here and win as much as possible.”
Just four of the 198 riders that will take to the start line in Leeds on Saturday are British – Cavendish, Geraint Thomas (both Team Sky) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE).
Cavendish, a proud Manxman and Briton, had hoped there would be more, pointing to 2012 winner Wiggins and Millar, in particular.
Wiggins was not selected by Team Sky and Garmin-Sharp did not select Millar.
“In an ideal world I’d have liked to have seen more Brits at this Tour de France,” Cavendish said.
“Great Britain has been successful the last years in world cycling. I think that’s a massive part of why the Tour de France has come to the UK again.
“Bradley, David and these guys, grand tour stage winners from our country.
“(But) with Chris Froome as defending champion, he’s going to start his defence in Yorkshire and it’s going to be incredible for the race.”
Froome was all-conquering in 2013 but has had a mixed 2014 thus far, winning the Tour of Oman and Tour de Romandie before crashing in June’s Criterium du Dauphine, which he led early on but eventually finished 12th.
“There definitely is an increased pressure element coming back as defending champion, given we’re starting on home soil, we’ve got huge crowds,” Froome said.
“(But) I think it’s all very warm, positive energy.
“Given the structure of the Tour this year and the diversity of all the different challenges, it’s not possible to say this guy’s going to win.
“I will say I’m going to give it absolutely everything, (but) it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”
Team Sky’s aim is a third successive victory, with Froome again standing on the top step of the Paris podium on July 27 to become the first back-to-back champion since the disgraced Lance Armstrong.
Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford does not believe in the idea of ‘defending’ titles.
Brailsford said: “In sport you try to win things, you don’t try to defend things.
“What we’re now trying to do is win the Tour de France for a third time.
“We’re ready for the fight, can’t wait for it to get going and we’ll give it our best shot.”
Meanwhile, Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters admitted it will take time to mend bridges with veteran British rider Millar.
Millar reacted publicly and angrily to his omission and Vaughters said: “Unfortunately we’re not back to normal, no.
“That phone-call was no fun. But it’ll get there. There’s a lot of history and we all care about David quite a bit. But the end responsibility is the team and getting the best result.”