CHOLET, France—Expectations were high on Mark Cavendish before the start of the Tour de France but the Briton has failed to deliver in the early stages which had seemed, on paper, to favour his finishing power.
With seven victories this season, Cavendish found himself the most successful sprinter to start the Tour after Belgian Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi were ruled out on doping grounds.
The Team Columbia rider, 22, also showed this year by winning two sprint finishes on the Giro d'Italia that he could handle the special pressure of a three-week race.
His best result last year in his first Tour de France was ninth in a stage in Compiegne and he almost matched that in Monday's third stage to Nantes, taking 10th place.
The placing marked a clear improvement from 129th in the Tour opener in Plumelec and 27th the next day in St Brieuc but was still far below his hopes.
"I would be a little bit disappointed if I didn't win one stage on this Tour," Cavendish said before the start of the fourth stage, a 29.5-km individual time trial in Cholet.
"But it's a fact that sprints on the Tour are different, more difficult because the pace is at least ten percent higher. It is fast from start to finish," he said.
Cavendish has not been helped by circumstances. The first stage finished with a short, steep climb and his team leader Kim Kirchen was in the front in the finale.
The second was a little too bumpy for him, while four escapees stole the show in the third stage to Nantes which would have suited him perfectly.
Cavendish is also not the only strong finisher in his team, with Austria's Bernhard Eisel and Germany's Gerald Ciolek both capable of surging in the last stretch, not to mention Kirchen.
Kirchen and Ciolek were second and third in the second stage. The Briton said there was no plan each day at the start to favour any rider.
"We do it on feeling. The race decides who is best placed, who is in the best form," he said.
Cavendish made it clear he was taking things easy in Tuesday's time trial to save strength for Wednesday's 232-km fifth stage to Chateauroux, ideally designed for a rider of his calibre.
"Every chance of a break is welcome because I will need to be at full gas to survive the mountains," said the Briton, who really wants to make it all the way to Paris.
Yet Cavendish has no plans to go for the points standings which crown the best sprinter on the Tour: "I'm not consistent enough yet to go for the green jersey. Maybe in years to come," he said.