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Narrow margins, significant gains

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Photographs: Joel Hewitt

Reports of Mark Cavendish’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
The reputation of Etixx-Quickstep’s 29-year-old sprinter, for so long considered untouchable, has been dented in recent seasons with the emergence of a worthy rival in Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin).
Cavendish, rarely less than engaging, won the opening stage of the 2015 Dubai Tour by the narrowest of margins, holding off a charging Andrea Guardini (Astana).
Of equal interest was the galaxy of talent deployed to set up the two men who contested the denouement. Tony Martin shouldered most of the burden for Etixx-Quickstep, while Italian road race champion Vincenzo Nibali put in a significant shift for Guardini.
Nibali’s people have made it clear to any who will listen that the Tour de France champion will not wait until June to claim his first victory this season, as he did last year. Is February too soon? The third stage to Hatta Dam, one billed as ‘medium mountain’ and offering a 17 per cent climb to the finish, may bring an early display of form for a rider who has placed Liege-Bastogne-Liege on his ‘to do’ list for 2015.
Others expected to shine on stage three, enjoyed a quieter start to the race than Nibali. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), fresh from victory at the low-key Challenge Mallorca, finished safely in the bunch.
Stage two is expected to deliver more of the same, and with Cavendish off-the-mark at San Luis, and now with a victory in Dubai, expect the sprinter who claims his hunger for victory is never satiated to put himself in the frame again.
He will hope for a greater margin of victory than he enjoyed on stage one, but a win’s a win for all that, and Guardini is likely to dwell longer on their narrow separation than Cavendish.

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