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Cavendish confident on return to winning ways

The prolific sprinter will miss a shot at racing for the Olympic gold medal in the Madison this summer, but insists he is back in top shape for the road season.

Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-McLaren) didn’t win in his season debut at the Saudi Tour last week, but he says he’s optimistic that a return to the winner’s podium is only a matter of time.

The once-prolific sprinter didn’t win last year, and only once per season in 2017 and 2018. Yet, Cavendish says he’s revived, motivated and healthy again to once again become a force in the mass sprints in 2020.

“Three years is a long time. But I feel like a cyclist again. I can go deep again. I can train well again,” Cavendish told Het Nieuwsblad. “I am especially pleased that there are still intelligent people in the sport who understand that I still have the capacity to continue as a professional rider.”

The 34-year-old hasn’t won in Europe since the 2016 Tour de France, but a move to Bahrain-McLaren sees a more confident Cavendish ready to take on the challenge of winning races again. Cavendish has suffered from a series of crashes and health setbacks, including a bout with Epstein-Barr.

“I’ve known nothing but being part of a winning team. Through illness and through other things that weren’t really my problem, I’ve missed that the last few years,” Cavendish told Eurosport. “That’s why I ride a bike — I like to win.”

Cavendish’s comments come just as the door was shut on his outside shot of earning a return to the 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, as part of the British Cycling track team.

British Cycling officially confirmed Monday the riders it will bring to this month’s UCI track cycling world championships in Berlin (February 26 – March 1), and Cavendish was not included. Cavendish would have needed to race at Berlin to earn points qualify for Tokyo, and his absence on the worlds team means Cavendish won’t be racing on the boards in the 2020 Olympic Games.

Instead, British Cycling brings a mix of experience and rising talent to Berlin. Typically the worlds are an important test for Olympic-bound cyclists for the powerful British outfit.

“The world championships in Berlin mark an important milestone on the path to the Olympic Games for the track cyclists and, as has always been our clear intention for this stage of the cycle, our focus now is on those riders who we believe have the potential to win a medal in Tokyo,” said performance director Stephen Park on the federation’s website. “It’s also a good opportunity for our riders to show the selectors what they’re capable of and to help stake their claim on a place within the Olympic squad. Morale within the team is high as the anticipation of an Olympic Games grows, and everyone is looking forward to competing in Berlin.”

Cavendish had held some hope of returning to the Olympics, after the Madison was confirmed on the program for competition this summer. A former Madison world champion, Cavendish won silver in the omnium in Rio de Janeiro behind Elia Viviani at the 2016 Olympic Games. In 2008, in Beijing, Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins finished eighth in the Madison. The event was removed from Olympic competition for London and Rio de Janeiro, but returns in 2020 for both men’s and women’s competition. Cavendish could still compete in Tokyo in road racing, but the mountainous course means a selection would be unlikely.

Cavendish, meanwhile, hopes his move to Bahrain-Merida will see him return as one of the top sprinters in the peloton following a few sub-par seasons marred by crashes and health issues.

He also lamented the growing tendency of harder and less-frequent sprint finales in cycling’s major stage races. Cavendish owns 30 Tour de France career stage wins, just four short of matching Eddy Merckx’s record. He admits it will be a challenge to match the record against a deep sprinter field and even harder race routes.

“Sprinting is becoming a dying part of the sport really,” Cavendish told Eurosport. “We’ve got a lot of talented sprinters in the world, but races time and time again seem to be trying to eliminate sprints. That puts a whole genre of road cyclists in a perilous position. We all feel that, and feel bonded by it. We all know the risks we take on the road. Ultimately, most of us have a really good relationship because of that.”

Cavendish is scheduled to race at the UAE Tour later this month.