MILAN (VN) — Mark Cavendish, winner of 25 Tour de France stages, will return to track racing Tuesday night in the Gent Six-Day with Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Iljo Keisse. The Belgian event should help him rebound from a rough 2014 season and prepare for 2015 and possibly the omnium track event at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Physically, I’m in order,” said Cavendish in a race press release. “After my serious fall in the Tour, admittedly, my shoulder troubled me for quite a long time. Now, I am 100 percent fine.”
Cavendish crashed out of the Tour de France on the first day, when the race finished in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate, England. A separated right shoulder meant that he could only return to racing on August 8 and could not enjoy a full season. He crashed again in the Tour of Britain’s second stage.
The 29-year-old won 11 times in 2014 compared to 19 the year prior and 23 times in 2009. In 2010, he also won 11 times, but that included five Tour stage wins. In terms of wins, 2014 was his worst season since “Cav” began as a stagiaire with T-Mobile/Telekom in 2006.
In that time, several sprint stars emerged, including Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano). The blond German is now considered cycling’s golden boy when it comes to sprints. He dominated the Tour’s flat finishes this year, picking up four wins, and taking home 13 victories for 2014.
The track could be Cavendish’s path back to gold. Tuesday night, on the 167-meter Kuipke velodrome, he will pair with five-time Gent winner Keisse. The six-day runs through Sunday, November 23. Cavendish will also race the Zurich Six-Day, November 26-29, with Keisse.
“Of course, I’m also a little nervous, not knowing full well what the coming days will bring. At the moment, I really can’t say what a realistic goal is,” Cavendish said.
“I currently do not have the condition that I had at the start of the Tour, but I have trained as much as possible in the past weeks. I also have a past as a track rider, and that is something you don’t ever lose.”
Cavendish raced in Gent’s Citadel Park in 2005 with Rob Hayles and in 2007 with Brad Wiggins, when they placed 10th. In 2008, Cavendish and Wiggins won the gold medal in the Madison at the world championships and had a disappointing ninth place in the Madison at the Beijing Olympics.
That year, 2008, was the last that Cavendish raced on the track seriously, even if he returned briefly for a Revolution Series in 2011 and the International Belgian Open in 2013.
Gent, however, could be a launchpad for the 2016 Rio Games and the missing Olympic gold medal in Cavendish’s long palmarès that includes 25 Tour stages, Milano-Sanremo, and the road race world title.
Cavendish explained that the Gent Six-Day has “nothing to do with Rio” but British daily, The Telegraph reported that he is considering going to Brazil to participate in the omnium.
“I’ve no idea yet,” Cavendish said in The Telegraph. “My short-term goal is returning to be dominant at the Tour de France. That is kind of taking up all of my focus right now.”
After Gent and Zurich, Cavendish will meet with his Omega Pharma team in December and plan the 2015 season.