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Provocateur: Mark Cavendish

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There's a funny story over at Cycle Sport UK today on how Filippo Pozzato attempted to rain on Mark Cavendish's parade yesterday, accusing him of not respecting the sport, pulling on team cars, and being reckless in the sprints. Cavendish denies it all, and frankly Pozzato sounds like he wants Cavendish to respect him rather than the conventions of Cycling. I guess Mark Cavendish just evokes a lot of reactions these days.

Cavendish is one of the more important riders around these days, and not just in Italy. Yes, his devastating sprint, where homegrown hero Daniele Bennati was left choking on the Manxman's jetwash, was a stunning sight. Italian fans are sometimes good at tipping their cap to a better athlete, and yesterday was apparently one of those days. Regardless of Pippo's disparagements, the scuttlebut was that a star has been born.

Cavendish's top-end speed is enough to make you daydream about all the wins he could pile up in his career. Since he's all of 22 means that we could be spending a lot of time on this subject. Already he has 17 wins at the top flight of the sport, in under two years (T-Mobile called him up to the big club in August, 2006). This includes beating Tom Boonen in own neighborhood at the Scheldeprijs, two wins at Dreidaagse de Panne, and a triumph in the ultra-short Romandie prologue. Whether he's the next Zabel depends on his developing consistency and enough pack-smarts to maximize his opportunities, but there's no reason he can't follow through. Already he and his team are working things out... I love the quote from yesterday's stage about how they paced him to the front before the last climb, then retrieved him near the back once the climb was over. A strategy I can relate to.

I also love the quote from Stage 1 of the Tour last year, when he was looking to score a Tour sprint win on British soil, but alas:

Young British sprinter Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) was touted as a possibility for the stage but he crashed into a spectator with 21 kilometres to go in Farthing Common at the base of the final KOM. His team director Brian Holm explained, "He ran into someone and was half-fighting with the man he ran into on the street. I don't know exactly what happened. Then his handlebars were damaged so we had to move up and change his bike again."

Pugnacious? Just a bit. Fearless? For sure. Reckless? Hm, hard to say. Hopefully not. Anyway, the real reason this is worth a post is that High Road are one of those big teams without a sponsor. Sponsors are naturally attracted to exciting teams with a rapidly-expanding fanbase. High Road are a rather excellent squad right now, thanks largely to a 22-y.o. kid who lights up the pavement like nobody else. Better still, he's from a large, well-off country full of sports fans who are looking for a reason to care about Cycling. Sure, England is much more closely tied to the Pro Tour than the US has been, at least at the fan level, but if Cavendish becomes a hero this season, and again at the Olympics, the prospect of British sponsors taking an interest in High Road would be looking up. No small development that would be.