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Giro d'Italia

Robbie McEwen cautions don’t count out Mark Cavendish: ‘I won’t be shocked if he wins a Giro d’Italia stage’

Sprinter-turned-commentator McEwen says he's surprised at lack of support for Cavendish: 'Everything has to go perfectly to pull it off.'

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Robbie McEwen raced against Mark Cavendish in the closing years of his career, and now the sprinter-turned-commentator is watching with interest as Cavendish will be fending off younger upstarts during the upcoming Giro d’Italia.

The tables are turned now for the 37-year-old Cavendish, who starts the Giro this weekend on a quest for his first victory of 2023 after joining Astana-Qazaqstan in a late-season deal.

McEwen, who will be calling the race for Eurosport and GCN+ as an expert commentator all month, said he expects Cavendish to deliver despite not showing much so far in the bunch sprints in the opening months of this season.

“It’s not a stacked field of sprinters at the Giro, so I won’t be shocked if he wins a stage,” McEwen told VeloNews. “He showed some decent form at Scheldeprijs, so coming off the back of that, I expect him to be a decent level and to be competitive on the flat stages.”

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McEwen said a victory during the Giro would go a long way toward bolstering Cavendish and what McEwen believes is Cavendish’s true goal of being ready for the Tour de France.

“Thinking a little bit further down the track, I am sure all of Cav’s focus is on the Tour, and for lack of a better word, the Giro is somewhat of a training camp,” McEwen said during a phone interview.

“I know there will be part of Cav’s mind on the Tour,” he said. “It’s good for anyone going to the Tour to get a confidence boost from the Giro and get something on the board. It’s good for your team, it’s good for your teammates, and it gets the press off your back a little bit.”

All eyes will be on Cavendish, who has been slow out of the gate so far in 2023. The big goal is to win at least one stage at the Tour this summer to set the all-time stage-win mark that he currently shares with Eddy Merckx at 34.

Cavendish also owns 16 stage victories at the Giro, the most among active riders. The Giro marks Cavendish’s first serious goal of what’s been a bit of a rocky spring.

McEwen cautioned it won’t be easy for Cavendish to add another “W” to his palmarès during the Giro, and cited Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) as the most dangerous rivals in the bunch kicks.

McEwen also pointed out a surprising lack of support for Cavendish on the Astana-Qazaqstan Giro roster.

Somewhat surprisingly, especially after all the noise being made earlier this season about building out a sprint train for Cavendish, riders such as Cees Bol, Gleb Syritsa, and Yevgeniy Fedorov are not racing in Italy this month.

“No Cees Bol, no Syritsa, I was a little bit surprised at that,” McEwen said. “Mark hasn’t looked his best so far this season, but he’s still determined, still fast. Last year, he won a very good win at the Giro, so absolutely why not.

“Another year older, a different team, it’s not a leadout team like he had last year with Quick-Step at the Giro. That can make a world of difference when you’re battling on your own, everything has to go perfectly to pull it off.”

McEwen on Cavendish: ‘He’s also been driven’

Cavendish returns to the Giro without a full leadout train. (Photo: Alex Broadway / Getty)

McEwen also doesn’t buy into the argument that Cavendish has been playing things coyly or hiding in the bunch. Sprinters want to win every chance they get, so if the victories are not there, there’s a reason.

“I don’t think he’s been playing rope-a-dope, he’s been slowly building,” McEwen said. “Not having a team over the winter throws a massive spanner in the works, trying to get everything organized, and it really does affect your training, your mindset. I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t able to come out swinging in the first couple months of the season.

“We’ve seen him smiling and chatting to people, it’s almost as if he wants to keep things low-key until he can get to a level that’s acceptable to him, and then you can start to see some of that ‘agro’ coming back that he has within him and he starts firing himself up for some big results,” McEwen said.

McEwen was one of the fastest and most prolific sprinters of his day and won 12 stages at the Giro during his career that spanned the eras of Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi.

McEwen was entering the waning years of his career when the upstart Cavendish was coming up.

“When he came in 2007-08, I was 35-36, I was the age he is now,” McEwen said. “And you see now the guys coming through, he’s own teammate last year in Fabio Jakobsen, Dylan Groenewegen, Olav Kooij. It never gets easier. He’s in the position that I was in when he made his big run.”

McEwen, who retired in 2012, will rejoin the commentating team at Eurosport, GCN+, and Discovery+ in his second year as an expert commentator for the season’s first grand tour.

McEwen said older sprinters need to learn how to adapt the limitations that come with aging and be ready to take advantage when the moment arrives.

“You still have as much speed and power, but you don’t every day on command,” he said. “Some days it won’t quite be what you’re hoping for, and you really have to hope your good days come on the right days. And then you can take on absolutely anybody.

“That’s what I found toward the end of my career. As athletes get older, you can still have these incredible days. You just hope it’s not out while you’re training, you hope it comes when you have a number pinned on.”

McEwen knows Cavendish well and said some things never change.

“He is certainly driven, that’s something he’s always been,” he said.

Cavendish is equal to Eddy Merckx on the all-time list at the Tour de France. Can he pull off one more? (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

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