Be it a euphoric win, an agonising injury at a crucial moment, or the end of a sparkling career, cycling is a sport filled with powerful emotions. Mark Cavendish has experienced all three, nearly.
In a year which saw Chris Froome, Adam Yates, and more recently, Marc Hirschi, all move teams, it is astonishing that a rider with no wins over the previous two seasons remains one of the key transfers ahead of the 2021 season.
Following the 2020 edition of Gent-Wevelgem, peculiarly held at the height of Autumn, Cavendish gave an emotional post-race interview. The message was simple: "That’s perhaps the last race of my career”. With the future of his career in doubt, he was unable to hold back the tears and left the interview abruptly.
It had been a difficult 2020 season for Cavendish. Riding for Bahrain McLaren, he had failed to finish in the top ten on a single occasion. Not a particularly striking statistic for a domestique, but this is a man second on the list of all-time Tour de France stage wins, with 30 to his name.
However, just over three months on from that poignant day in Belgium, Cavendish remains a professional rider, and does so with the winningest team in cycling over the past decade. Attending the Deceuninck-Quick Step training camp in Spain, Cav is jubilant as he sits among his new team-mates. “The best part of my career was with this team. Ultimately, there was only one place I wanted to go. I was happiest when I was here, the opportunity to come back here is a dream, whether I do one month more or 10 years more, it’s a dream to be back here.” Cavendish continued: “I tried something else, but in hindsight, I wish I stayed here my whole career.”
Cavendish added that his close relationship with CEO, Patrick Lefevere, was a crucial element that drove him to re-join the squad. “When I left the team in 2015, I maintained a really, really close relationship with Patrick. For me, he’s someone I take inspiration from as a leader. You can’t imagine how proud I am to be back, to put on this jersey again, and to ride for Patrick.”
Lefevere explained: “As we know, Mark was having difficulties finding a team. Fortunately for him and for us, we found a solution. With his palmarès, his charisma, he deserves a place in the squad."
Omega Pharma-Quickstep Mark Cavendish celebrates winning stage 8 in a sprint finish (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
Cavendish first joined Quick Step in 2013 as a colossal name in cycling. He was 27 years-old with 23 stage wins at the Tour de France to his name. Adding to his prestige, he sported the rainbow bands on his sleeves – the mark of a former World Champion. His sprinting dominance continued in his first season as he won seven Grand Tour stages in all, five of those coming at the Giro d’Italia.
Despite the numerous successes over his career, Cavendish is under no illusions. “Look, if I wanted to win six stages of the Tour de France again, I’m in fairytale land. I’m a realist. I’m not looking to hang on to something or finish my career in any fairytale way. I just know that I’m still good.”
Never faltering in his humility, when asked what he makes of the current crop of sprinters, Cavendish responded: “I’ve not a clue what they’re like because I was never close to them last year, so I couldn’t see!”
As he spoke, Cavendish sat beside Sam Bennett and Fabio Jakobsen – two of the fastest in the peloton’s current crop. Bennett was the winner of two stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France last year, and can claim to be the best sprinter in the world over the past 12 months, whereas Jakobsen underwent a very different 2020. He had collected four wins in the season before enduring a horrific crash at the Tour of Poland. The Dutchman suffered terrible injuries and was lucky to survive.
“He’s a guy that has dealt with expectations," said Bennett regarding Cavendish. “If he came away from a Grand Tour with two stage wins, people said it was a bad Grand Tour. He set the bar really high." Jakobsen chipped in, stating: “He’s the best sprinter in the Tour of all time, it’s a huge motivation for me that he supports me."
In spite of Cavendish’s struggles, it is clear that the two younger sprinters, albeit with highly contrasting objectives for the season, will be looking to Cavendish for mentorship and inspiration in equal measure.
Mark Cavendish at the finish on Mur-de-Bretagne riding for Dimension Data (Image credit Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com)
8th February 2018 – the day of Mark Cavendish’s most recent pro victory. He defeated numerous strong rivals that day at the Dubai Tour: Nacer Bouhanni, Elia Viviani and Marcel Kittel, to name a few.
Almost three years on, the crucial factor for Cav is that for the very first time in his career, he is under absolutely no pressure. No one is expecting him to win Grand Tour stages – it would be unjust to do so.
Cavendish has participated in 19 Grand Tours over his illustrious career, but his most recent GT was the 2018 Tour de France. Perhaps it would be more suitable to perceive success should Cavendish get to the start line of a Grand Tour in 2021. After all, he is now riding for a team that acquired 39 wins in 2020, the most of any WorldTour outfit. Grand Tour spots are not handed out like candy, particularly here.
However, when thinking back to the teary day at Gent-Wevelgem, the dream cannot be for Cavendish to win a race or start the Tour de France. Ultimately, the dream is the continuation of his career, whether it be for one month or ten years. And who knows, he might just find a way to write a fairytale ending yet.
Mark Cavendish's 2021 Results So Far
Clasica de Almeria (14/02) - 94th
Le Samyn (02/03) - 29th
Grote prijs Jean-Pierre Monsere (07/03) - 2nd
Danilith Nokere Koerse (17/03) - 84th
Bredene Koksijde Classic (19/03) - 30th
Coppi e Bartali (23/03 - 27/03) - 2nd, 3rd
Scheldeprijs (07/04) - 3rd
Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey (11/04 - 18/04) - 4th, 1st, 1st
Cavendish claimed his first win in over 1000 days on stage two of the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey stage race.