The Ghent Six, November 2005, Rob Hayles and Mark Cavendish (GB) may be world madison champions, but they sure are taking a kicking here, last, 34 laps off the pace. And besides, Cavendish is a bit fat and spends his time between races hanging-over the railings talking to family and friends, not sitting resting; he’ll never make a pro.
Fast-forward to April 2007, still in Flanders, ‘Cav’ now on the Pro Tour with T-Mobile, edges Robbie McEwen in the sweeping, curving finale of the semi-classic Scheldeprijs, did I really say he’d never make a pro?
It’s now July 2007 and Mark Cavendish has six top class wins under his belt. This Saturday, at 22 years-old, he faces the biggest challenge of his career – the Tour de France.
He’s from the Isle of Man, the little island in the Irish Sea is famous for it’s motor cycle races and for being a tax haven for millionaires. But it’s part of the British Isles and it might be a long time before Le Tour graces our green and pleasant land again. Stage one into Canterbury gives him a unique chance to be a British stage winner on British soil in the biggest race in the world.
He’s rapid and has the brashness of youth on his side; we think he’ll grab that chance and win stage one.
What’s going-on inside a sprinter’s head is every bit as important as how many watts he can generate. Last year, Francisco Ventoso was just one of a any number of ‘sprinters’ who hadn’t actually won much. ‘Blooded’ by his Saunier Duval in second-string pro races during 2004, he had wins in the Tour of Quatar and USPro champs in Philadelphia; but 2005 was fallow as he was selected for tougher events.
We interviewed Francisco at the team camp in Spain.
Stage 3 of the 2006 Vuelta – 220 kilometres from Cordoba to Almendralejo – changed everything for the handsome, smiling 25 year-old from Reinosa in Spain. He tamed a dangerous last kilometre to putThor Hushovd into second, Stuart O’Grady into third, Erik Zabel into fourth and Robbie McEwen into fifth – no ‘soft’ win.
This season has seen him win three stages in the Tour of Catalonia and he was in the finale at Ghent-Wevelgem, ending-up 4th.
That Vuelta win has changed him, now he doesn’t think he can win a stage in a Grand Tour, he knows it. We believe he’ll win a Tour stage because he’s ambitious and wants to go all the way. Plus, he’s got the right jewellery and watch – a Spanish ‘Cipo’? Maybe that would be too much to ask.
Whilst John Gadret’s picture hasn’t graced the pages of Pez very often, his dog’s has – stange but true. As a Frenchman riding cyclo-cross in Belgium, you need all the help you can get and his terrier attends the races, complete with ‘supporter John Gadret’ coat.
We first heard of Gadret in 2004 when he grabbed the then new-squad, Chocolade Jacques their first win of the season in the French elite cyclo-cross championships. A regular, reliable and winning performer on the cross circuit, Gadret has the Pantani-esque build of the true pure-climber. As an amateur he rode for France on the road and in 2003 took second to England’s Mark Lovatt in the classic Manx International; a 113 miles race which takes in three laps of the notoriously tough mountain circuit in Mark Cavendish’s home – the Isle of Man.
The top level road break-through for the 28 year-old from Epernay didn’t come until last year’s Giro, though. Stage 13 saw the little Frenchman take 7th to Leonardo Piepoli but ahead of Cunego and Savoldelli. Stage 16 and he was 5th to Basso then 6th on stage 17 to Piepoli again. This was a new John Gadret, battling with honour with the real climbers.
Unfortunately, a crash and a broken collar bone on stage 18 ended the dream, but we think he’s a man with a lot of unfinished business.
In 2007 he’s been quietly going about his business, but a win in the recent, Swiss GP Gipingen revealed that the little man with the shaved head is coming to the boil at just the right time.Watch for him when the air gets thin.
Remy Di Gregorio
French cycling is currently short on heroes, present incumbent is Christophe Moureau, he’s tall, handsome, smiles a lot and has trendy facial hair. He may have won the Dauphine and the French elite championships in recent weeks, but he’s 35 and a podium-finish in the Tour is highly unlikely.
What France needs, is a handsome young hero, in the Virenque mould – but with a tactical brain! Enter 22 year-old Remy De Gregorio, the name on everybody’s lips at the moment; tall, slim, dark, with a Tintin haircut, huge eyebrows, curly eyelashes and the inevitable diamond ear stud. You can hear those housewives sighing already.
Di Gregorio took the now-not- uncommon route to the road from the dirt-tracks of the mountain bike world. As a ‘cadet’ (schoolboy), he won both the French off-road and road titles. In the junior ranks he won the French time trial championships and also Velo magazine’s, ‘Velo d’Or junior’ award as the country’s best rider in his age group.
He raced for less than one season as an espoir, turning pro for Francaise des Jeux in 2005. Last year saw him take his first pro win – a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir. This year, F des J team supremo, Marc Madiot, thinks that his protege is ready for the big stage – Di Gregorio’s winning the ‘Montagne’ classification in the recent Dauphine probably helped the double Paris-Roubaix winner’s decision. We don’t predict any stage wins for the man from Aubagne on the Mediterranean, but we do envisage ‘heroism’ – and more broken hearts among those housewives.