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A Belgian bromance and sponsor stoke brings Mark Cavendish back to Deceuninck-Quick-Step

Long-standing relationships with manager Patrick Lefevere and bike partner Specialized helped open door for the Manxman to return to former team.

Mark Cavendish will make a marquee return to Deceuninck-Quick-Step in 2021 in what makes for a dream end to a stellar career that had looked at risk of turning sour.

Speaking from an online presentation from the team’s training camp in Spain, Cavendish talked of how his close relationship with team boss Patrick Lefevere and unique standing with Specialized Bikes helped unlock the door to returning to his former team.

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“I have an incredible relationship with the sponsors, with the staff, with the riders, and obviously with Specialized,” Cavendish said Wednesday. “I helped develop the Venge. It’s a bike that was made for me, it’s a bike that proved was the best bike for me to win on. I know because of all that, that I can talk about the products as sponsors do.”

Cavendish had previously raced with the Belgian squad from 2013 to 2015, amassing dozens of race wins, three Tour de France stages, and the points jersey at the Giro d’Italia along the way.

Significantly, it was also a period that extended Cavendish’s tenure atop of Specialized Bikes having also ridden the frames during his years with HTC Colombia. Cavendish had worked with the U.S.-based manufacturer in the development of their then-pioneering Venge aero road bike at the start of last decade and has maintained relations with the industry giant ever since.

Cavendish went on to race Cervelo and Merida bikes with Dimension Data and Bahrain-McLaren when left he left Deceuninck-Quick-Step. As Cavendish’s career began to stutter, rivals such as Marcel Kittel and Elia Viviani rode the Specialized Venge to Tour de France victories. It was the 35-year-old’s long-standing relationship with Specialized that proved the winner this winter, however, supplying a bargaining chip in his negotiations with Lefevere and other top brass.

Cav just prior to the start of the 2019 Amgen Tour of California. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Reports last year suggested that Cavendish had landed the deal with his former team thanks to his bringing a personal sponsor to the table and the sympathetic ear of the grizzled team manager, who found space in a brimming roster for the former great.

Cavendish didn’t give any insight as to whether Specialized played a role in guaranteeing his one year deal with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, but alluded to the influence of his long bromance with Lefevere in the negotiation process.

“It went the same as most contracts go-between riders and teams. You speak, you sign a contract, you race. It’s pretty much the same with most cyclists,” he replied defensively when asked about the deal-making process.

“But obviously, when I left the team in 2015, I kept a really close relationship with Patrick,” he said. “For me, he’s someone I take inspiration for as a leader, I took advice from him and have thought ‘what would Patrick do in this situation?’ I’m happy I could maintain that relationship because I know if you ever leave this team, it’s hard to get back again.”

The 35-year-old said that the start of the final chapter of his career began right when he most feared for its continuation last October. The fiery sprinter burst into tears after racing Gent-Wevelgem last fall, revealing he thought his racing life had just come to a close as his contract with Bahrain-Mclaren neared its end.

“Straight away that same day I started to receive communication from teams,” Cavendish said of his emotive interview after the race. “But I think ultimately there was really only one place I wanted to go. Like I keep saying, I spent the best part of my career with this team, and I tried something else, and in hindsight and you know, I wish I would have stayed to my whole career I guess.”

Cavendish will be back on the bike he helped build and with a team boss that became a mentor in 2021. It seems a dream come true, but the sprint legend acknowledged it wouldn’t guarantee a total fairy tale ending after a long drought of victories.

“If it was about trying to win what I have won previously, I’m a realist,” he said. “I’m not looking to hang on to something or to finish my career in any fairytale way, I just know that I’m still good.”

Cavendish acknowledged he won’t be leading the charge in bunch kicks on a team already boasting Irish fastman Sam Bennett and returning talent Fabio Jakobsen. “The Manx Missile” is instead looking to add something beyond just sprint wins by helping guide the team’s youthful squad and provide on- and off-bike leadership.

“Even if I’m not winning I think I can still add something to this team,” he said. “I added something last time I was here, and I believe that this team added something to me last time I was here. So why not join regardless of whether I think it’s my last year or if I think I have 10 more years. The opportunity to come back to Quick-Step, it’s a dream, whether I do one month more or ten years more, it’s a dream to be back here.”