Mark Cavendish’s 2021 Tour de France campaign was one of the purest fairy tales in modern cycling. A prolific winner and superstar sprinter in the earlier stages of his career, the Manx rider had been suffering for over two seasons with injury and illness ahead of that Tour. During that time, many wrote off his chances of ever reaching his former level again; Cavendish was missing Tour de France selections altogether, let alone fighting for stage wins. As hard as this negative discourse around his racing career must have been to hear for the 37-year-old, it undoubtedly made his four stage wins in the 2021 Tour even more impressive: he'd done it despite all the naysayers.
Cavendish stands out as a rider because he has an unwavering self-belief. It’s his confidence in his ability that helped him to claw out of that pit of despair – a place where many professional athletes who are suffering from illness or injury find themselves – right back to the very top of professional cycling. It didn’t really matter to Cavendish what Twitter or Facebook said about his chances to win again, because he knew he could do it. “Always believe” has become Cavendish’s own slogan, sitting proudly in his Instagram biography as a constant reminder to everyone never to count him out.
Now over one year after that awe-inspiring 2021 Tour de France, Cavendish has almost come full circle. While it’s been respectable, this season hasn’t matched last year’s; the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team rider has secured five victories, including a win in the British National Championships and a stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia. Now as the winter draws in and racing comes to an end, Cavendish once again finds himself without a confirmed contract, with Patrick Lefevere opting to not renew Cavendish’s contract for 2023.
Such an uncertain future leaves much speculation in its wake. The latest report on Cavendish’s next steps comes from French newspaper Ouest-France, who stated that the British rider will join Jérôme Pineau’s B&B Hotels Team on a one-year contract. As a UCI ProTeam, B&B Hotels would be a step down for Cavendish, as Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl currently sits in the men’s WorldTour. A report from WielerFlits said that Amazon France would be stepping on board as a financial backer for the French squad which will be revamped for 2023.
So if these rumours come to fruition, how will Cavendish fare on a new team? Could he reach that elusive 35th Tour de France stage win in the colours of B&B Hotels?
Tour de France selection
One of the key benefits that will come with Cavendish signing for B&B Hotels will be automatic selection for the Tour de France. At Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, the presence of Fabio Jakobsen, another talented fast man, meant that Cavendish was always fighting to take part in the Tour. Team boss Patrick Levefere made it clear that he would only ever bring one sprinter to the race, and Cavendish was only granted this spot at the last minute in 2021, despite going on to win four stages that year. In 2022, Cavendish was left disappointed to miss out on the Tour de France selection, stating on his Instagram that he’d found out the riders who had made it on to Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s Tour team through social media only a few days before the event.
Cavendish wins Stage 6 of the 2021 Tour de France (Image: Alex Broadway/SWpix)
This uncertainty around race selection can have significant impacts on a rider’s performance. If he can be sure that he will have a spot as a lead sprinter in a Tour de France team next year, Cavendish will be able to tailor his training specifically with this goal in mind, ensuring that his form peaks at the correct time. Mentally, knowing that he doesn’t have to battle for a spot on his team could also have benefits too, allowing the British rider to have a more relaxed approach to racing and a less intense environment around the earlier races in the season. Cavendish is a rider who performs well when he can be sure that his support team trusts him and will support him – this was proved when Quick Step threw all of its weight behind Cavendish at the 2021 Tour de France and the Manx rider responded accordingly. If this sort of support level can be replicated should he sign for B&B Hotels, Cavendish could achieve Tour de France victory again.
Lead out squad
Mindset and mentality is an important aspect of bike riding, but even if a team of riders has all the belief in the world, power and physical strength is still needed to win. It’s why Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl have a track record of helping their sprinters get to the top: they have the strongest lead out train in the peloton. They start work far in advance of the last few kilometres before the finish line. It begins with a rider like Tim Declerc or Kasper Asgreen who can be relied on to pull the breakaway back in the early part of the race and then position their sprinter to be tucked away in the line, out of the wind. It ends with riders like Davide Ballerini who can a long, fast pull on the front to string out a storming peloton, then Michael Mørkøv, arguably the best lead out man in the world, who can drop off a sprinter just close enough to the line that they’re only required to do a few short, powerful pedal strokes to take the win.
Building a team like this takes time and expertise. It remains to be seen if the riders that Cavendish will have around him if he opts to join B&B Hotels can fill the big shoes of a leadout train like that of Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s. According to VeloNews, the following riders will ride for B&B Hotels next year so far: Nick Shultz (BikeExchange-Jayco, Cees Bol (Team DSM) Stephen Williams (Bahrain Victorious), Ramon Sinkeldam (Groupama-FDJ) and Maximiliano Richeze (UAE Team Emirates).
Cavendish at the British National Road Championships 2022 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
These riders already have the making of a decent leadout squad: Richeze and Bol are proven fast men, and, as sprinters themselves, they could do a good job at positioning Cavendish when it matters (that is, if they are prepared to sacrifice their own chances.) Sinkeldam, too, has a wealth of experience in a leadout train and sprinting himself. Still, a good lead out train can take a while to dial in and get right, so the team will have a lot of work to do to compete with the likes of Quick Step in 2023.
It’s clear with Mark Cavendish that his mindset forms an essential part of his ability to win a sprint. He’s a rider who has long worn his heart on his sleeve (this has sometimes made him likeable, sometimes it has gone the other way), but a good support system around Cavendish seems to make a tangible difference to his happiness and performance on the bike.
At Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, Cavendish had to deal with a lot of internal politics within the team. In Lefevere’s newspaper column for Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, he regularly documented the team’s internal conflicts and spoke openly about his feelings for particular riders. The Belgian boss was often on talk shows about cycling, and was never afraid to speak his mind. This brutal honesty is entertaining viewing for cycling fans, but it can cause stress for the riders involved. Should Cavendish join B&B Hotels, he could enjoy a more harmonious team environment that comes with less stress in the process.
Most importantly, should Cavendish be confirmed as the main sprinter for the team, this will give him assurance that the team fully believes in his ability. While we know that Cavendish is a rider so headstrong that the opinions of others don’t define his performances, it will still offer peace of mind for the Brit that a team is fully trusting his ability to win again. With this, Merckx’s elusive record could be reached by Cavendish in 2023.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWPix