Cavendish spoke to VeloNews exclusively after the finish of Thursday’s fifth stage of the UAE Tour. The British sprinter said he is helping Bahra-McLaren in ways that viewers don’t always see on television.
“It’s just nice to be in an environment with Rod [Ellingworth] and McLaren – I’ve known both for years,” Cavendish said. “There’s no pressure on me here. I know I bring value to the team in other ways than having the sprint as well, you know. And maybe you don’t see that on TV, but people who get bike racing understand that, and it’s nice that Rod sees that as well.”
Cavendish transferred to the new-look Bahraini team with a one-year contract at the start of this year, seeing him join a powerful outfit with former Sky/Ineos mastermind Rod Ellingworth at its helm and British motorsport team McLaren holding the purse strings.
So, how is Cavendish contributing to Bahrain-McLaren’s mission if he’s not winning the sprints? Television cameras have caught glimpses of him taking pulls in the team’s domestique ranks during the UAE Tour’s mountain stages. He has also used his veteran presence to draw together an overhauled team that took on 12 new riders at the start of the season.
“There’s a lot of the original team here, there’s a lot of new guys here, and over my experience I know that I can help make a team form from individuals,” Cavendish said. “And I’m trying my hardest to do that here. I wouldn’t say I’m making that happen, Rod’s come in and brought the right people to make that happen, but it’s nice to be involved in that.”
Earlier this month, Cavendish rode in a Bahrain-McLaren team that dominated the second-tier Saudi Tour. Despite being the big-name rider on the team’s starts heet, Cavendish’s own sprint ambitions seemed to take a back seat at Saudi. Instead, Phil Bauhaus sprinted to two stage victories and secured overall for the team.
On stage 3, Cavendish was tucked onto Bahuaus’s wheel in the final 300 meters. The smallest of gaps appeared between the two, they exchange a look, and in that moment, the leadout man became the leader as Bauhaus opened his own stage-winning sprint.
This week, in the UAE Tour, the Bahrain McLaren team has split ambitions with Wout Poels contesting the overall, and Cavendish for the sprints. So far, Cavendish has been crowded out by a younger generation of grand tour sprinters, with Caleb Ewan, Pascal Ackermann and Dylan Groenewegen netting stage wins in the opening three sprints. Bahrain-McLaren had been active in all the finals, only to see any opportunity for Cavendish to sprint fall by the wayside.
“It’s nice to be able to control, predict and determine the outcome of a race and not be on the back foot trying to come from behind,” Cavendish said. “Being able to take the race on and dictate how the race goes, that was always the case in all the other teams I’ve been in through my career, Telecom, HTC, Sky, Quick-Step. Obviously those last years [with Dimension Data] were a little bit different. This is now an environment I’m used to riding in and that’s nice.”
The season is still young, but Cavendish has had little opportunity to open a sprint so far in 2020. There’s a sense that the Manxman is looking to Ellingworth to tease the best out of him. Cavendish worked with the Brit during his sprint heyday, including when he scooped the 2011 World Championships for Team Great Britain and took three wins in the 2012 Tour de France with Team Sky.
“It’s always good to work with people you know, and that’s the same with any aspect of life,” said Cavendish of Ellingworth. “It means that you can get started straight away – you know how each other works, you know how each other ticks and ultimately you can get a better performance from that.”
Getting media access to Cavenish at the UAE Tour proved a difficult process of back-and-forth conversations, ‘ifs’, ‘maybes’ and vagaries with the team’s public relations liaisons. When time was granted, it was brief, under the proviso of positivity, and policed by a press officer.
Cavendish spoke quietly by the team busses. Bolshy, brazen Cavendish still lurked beneath the surface as his temper flashed over a fumbled question. However, he largely seemed down on confidence and looking for someone – or something – to give him belief.
In a current set-up that includes multimillion dollar backers, cutting edge performance technology, and a Tour de France dominating performance manager, Bahrain-McLaren should be the place to re-instill belief in Cavendish.
“Me and Rod became close because we have a positive outlook on cycling,” he said. “We love the sport and we like to perform in the sport, and that’s how we stay close.”
Sprinters thrive on confidence, the cutthroat mentality and machismo to dive through gaps and impose themselves physically. With just a one-year contract to play with, Cavendish needs Ellingworth to build a positive outlook in him again soon or that next WorldTour win could be some time yet.