Cavendish: Yellow jersey has never been my career goal
Mark Cavendish admitted his 10th Tour de France will be a step into the unknown as he played down the importance of claiming an elusive yellow jersey.
Cavendish has spent much of the year preparing to compete on the track at the Olympics - he was last week selected to compete in the omnium and team pursuit in Rio - and does not know what impact that could have on his form in France.
"It's been completely different," the Manxman said. "I've had a pretty track (-orientated) build-up, I used a lot of racing to build my endurance.
"I really don't know how it will be. It could be the best thing I've done, it could be the worst thing I've done."
Saturday's opening stage from Mont St Michel to Utah Beach in Normandy should offer the sprinters a chance to claim glory - and for Cavendish to wear one of the few jerseys to elude him thus far in his career.
Cavendish may have won 26 Tour stages in his career - third all-time on the list - but none of them have been an opening stage and the famous yellow jersey is one of the few missing from his collection.
But the 31-year-old Manxman took issue when asked about yellow being a career goal, insisting Saturday was just another chance to win a stage of his favourite race.
"It was never a career target," he said. "It's just something I haven't done...
"It's a stage win. The win will get you the yellow jersey. You can only look at it like that. How else will you get the yellow jersey? Even if it was the seventh stage, we'd go into it with the same strategy."
Cavendish has identified "five or six" sprint opportunities in this year's race, but to make them pay he must show he has the beating of German duo Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, who have had the better of him in the past two years.
Once utterly dominant in Tour sprints, Cavendish has seen the wins slow down of late. He won twice in 2013 and once in 2015 (having crashed out on the opening stage in 2014) but that does not compare to his peak, when he won five stages apiece in 2010 and 2011 as part of the revered HTC sprint machine.
"It's just got harder," he said of the Tour. "In 2008 there were 18 categorised climbs. Last year that was the number in the last week. It's been increasing every year, more and more climbs and that makes the sprint opportunities less.
"It also changes our approach because you don't go to a Tour with a nine-man sprint team anymore, not unless you will be satisfied with a couple of wins."
Cavendish will certainly not get such a lead-out train from Team Dimension Data, the team he joined in the winter. However, he seems to be thriving on their role in promoting the Qhubeka charity, which helps fund bikes to increase opportunities in Africa.
In return, the team has granted Cavendish the freedom to pursue his Olympic goals.
At one stage, it appeared those ambitions would force Cavendish to leave the Tour early to recuperate, but while that remains a possibility, the goal is to make it to Paris.
"I'm not coming to the Tour de France planning to stop," Cavendish said. "This is my 10th Tour de France to start. Every time I stopped, it's been for different circumstances, so you never know the circumstances to it.
"The thing is, I was in bed for a week after the Tour de France last year. I got sick. I know I can't afford to do that this year. Definitely, though, the biggest stage in the world is the Champs-Elysees for a sprinter. I know that my eight team-mates are going to do their best to get to Paris and I'm going to try to do my best to get to Paris...
"I'm not coming to the Tour just to dick about, I'm coming here to represent Dimension Data and raise awareness for Qhubeka and get some success for my team-mates."