– Mark Cavendish to the Tour de France? If he makes it and adds to his 30 victories, it would surely rank as one of the sport’s great comebacks. Even if he doesn’t, it has been an extraordinary tale. The once fanciful idea may now actually happen – GETTY IMAGES.
Mark Cavendish’s stunning renaissance this– which has seen the veteran sprinter, at the age of 36 and after three years without a victory – turn back the clock with a series of wins, continued on Sunday with victory in the final stage of the Tour of Belgium. A last-minute call-up following an injury to Deceuninck-Quick Step’s lead sprinter Sam Bennett, Cavendish beat a stellar field that included , Pascal Ackermann, Caleb Ewan, and Dylan Groenewegen.
With Bennett’s fitness still up in the air, talk is growing that the Manxman could find himself heading to the Tour for the first2018. But is it realistic to expect a rider, who was without a contract seven short months ago and who looked to be , to make his return on the biggest stage of all? Where the pressure to add to his palmarès and further close the gap to (the all-time leader on 34 stage wins) provides a constant distraction, one which no other rider has to face?
Will it happen?
It may be well. Bennett’s knee does appear to be a problem. Initially referred to in a team press release as a “small incident in training, ” they now describe it as inflammation of the patella tendon. Sources of the team suggest it is a worry, with Bennett off the bike all last week. Hardly the ideal build-up to the in the world.
An injury to Bennett could be an elegant solution. Patrick Lefevere, the Deceuninck-Quick, said in his most recent column in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that there was “no Plan B” if Bennett did not make it. But there is an argument to suggest that he would rather have Cavendish than Bennett in his anyway. The Irishman, who won the green jersey , is leaving the team at the end of the year. A would not only be a bigger story PR-wise, but it would also be the ultimate recognition for Lefevere for believing in him.
Can Cavendish still cut it?
If you had told anyone in cycling seven months ago that Cavendish would be in the running for Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Tour de France squad for 2021, they would have looked at you as if you had two heads. Not only had he not won a race in years – the result of seasons lost to debilitating Epstein-Barr virus, assorted injuries,issues, and the resulting loss of confidence – he did not even have a team.
The Bahrain-McLaren project, where even his old pal Rod Ellingworth appeared to have lost some faith in him, had collapsed. It took Lefevere to step in and offer him a last-minute deal to save his career. But there were no great expectations.
However, the manner of his latest win on Sunday was breathtaking and ends any doubt over whether Cavendish still has it. His four wins at the Tour of Turkey in April were one thing. It was a great story, but the field in Turkey was not the deepest.in Belgium was on another level. He went from 200 meters out and speed.
The confidence. Cavendish was incredibly energized in his post-race media, and his immediately offered a little insight into his motivation levels: “Done? No, mate, nowhere near.. Whaaaaa, that was a nice , @belgiumtour.” It has been coming, too. With 12 podiums this , Cavendish has been consistently competitive.
There appears to be some confusion on this score. Lefevere wrote in his newspaper column that at a dinner with Cavendish after Elfstedenronde. In this one-day race, he was second to Merlier following a photo-finish, he had brought up the subject of riding in a grand tour again, to which the sprinter had replied: “Not on my current salary.”
Lefevere added: “I understand his point of view. Mark joined our team at 35 and at the terms before the Tour. In some quarters, this has meant that Cavendish is on a UCI minimum salary and would not countenance going to the Tour unless he had a new deal.. At that time, the Tour was out of the question. He signed a minimum contract because we had minimal expectations.” Lefevere mused that Cavendish’s contract could be extended on better
It seems more likely Lefevere was using a figure of speech about a ‘minimum contract’ as there is no chance Cavendish is on the UCI minimum salary (some 40,000 euros). Either way, there is not thought to be anything to stop Cavendish from going to the Tour if he is selected. And he certainly wouldn’t say any if asked, new contract or no new contract.
Cavendish does not enjoy all the hype over the Tour, the talk of whether or not he will go. And if he does, whether or not he can add to his 30. He consistently bats it away and tries not to engage. “I don’t know. It’s all talk,” on Sunday, adding graciously that it was essential to see the status of Bennett, the reigning green jersey holder, before discussing his ambitions.
“The reason the whole Tour de France came up – I didn’t mention it, and Patrick didn’t mention it – I won in Tour of Turkey, and suddenly, the media started talking about it. This is a thing that happens a lot. The thing with ? I never started that. The media started that, and suddenly, it’s like, I’m going for it. It’s the same with this. You guys [the media] started whether or not I should go to the Tour de France.”
He knows it is inevitable, though. Cavendish understands it would be a massive story as one of the biggest stars in the sport – the greatest sprinter in cycling history. The hype is inevitable. Of course, he does not need to win to prove himself. Even if he retired now, he has already established to himself and the world that he still has what it takes. He has stuck two fingers up at his doubters in remarkable fashion. But would he still want to go back, even with all that pressure and hype? Of course, he would. We can only wait to see whether he will.