A week to forget for Cavendish's Tour de France campaign
Briton is blamed for crash, beaten in stage sprint by a rising star and has urine thrown at him
Mark Cavendish had hoped the second week of the Tour de France might see him climb back into contention for the green jersey, but instead it has proved to be a week to forget.
The sprint star was blamed by other riders - but not by race officials - for a crash that brought down Dutchman Tom Veelers in Saint-Malo on Tuesday and then had urine thrown at him by a spectator during Wednesday's time trial to Mont Saint-Michel.
Fast forward to Thursday, and there was more bad publicity for the Briton when organisers of the Boxmeer Criterium in the Netherlands said he would not be welcome at their race on July 22.
He then saw his hopes of recording a second stage win on this year's Tour de France thwarted when he was pipped in a sprint finish in Tours by rising German star Marcel Kittel.
"He was just simply faster. I can go back and look over and over again, but I don't think myself or the team could have done anything different," said Cavendish after the 12th stage.
"He [Kittel] was just simply better, you know? I was just beaten by a better guy."
Despite the 28-year-old's desire to play down the significance of his latest defeat, questions are now being asked in some quarters as to whether he can still be considered the sport's No1 sprinter.
However, unsurprisingly, his management at the Omega Pharma Quick Step team insist that it is still far too early to draw any conclusions from this year's race.
"You cannot make conclusions already when we are barely halfway through the Tour," said team chief executive Patrick Lefevere.
"If I am asked the same question again in Paris, I will respond honestly because I always say that you have to wait until the Champs Elysees [which welcomes the last stage] to draw any conclusions.
"Winning on the Champs Elysees is like winning two stages, in terms of the publicity it brings.
"Over 175 metres, if somebody beats you by 10cm to 15cm you have to accept it. To be a winner, you have to accept that you can lose."
Meanwhile, Lefevere insisted that Cavendish had not been left with any mental scars following Wednesday's urine-throwing incident.
"On Wednesday night, he was sad but by the morning his morale had improved and we said that the best way to respond was on his bike," added Lefevere.
"Everyone was a bit shocked but Mark is well respected among the peloton and they responded well."
Cavendish, who sits 96 points behind leader Peter Sagan in the race for the green jersey, had one more chance to record a stage win in Friday's ride from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond, before the Tour moves towards the Alps.
There is not likely to be another chance for a sprint finish until the final stage on the Champs Elysees, where the British champion has won in each of the last four years.