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Could Mark Cavendish return to the Tour de France?

The 'Manxster' is creating buzz about a possible Tour de France bid to chase Eddy Merckx's all-time stage-win record. Deal or no deal?

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Fans are buzzing following a hat trick of dazzling stage wins by Mark Cavendish at the Tour of Turkey.

After three years in the sprinters’ wilderness, the former world champion glowed in elation as he strode atop the winner’s podium for the first time since 2018.

That winning feeling is reviving debate about Cavendish and his immediate future: should the 35-year-old see a place on Decenuninck-Quick-Step‘s Tour de France roster this summer?

Without question, Cavendish is the most successful Tour racer in the bunch today, with 30 career stage wins. That is only four shy of the all-time mark held by Eddy Merckx.

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For a few years during his prime, it seemed almost a certainty that Cavendish was going to equal and even pass the great Merckx. Yet age, injuries, and politics put roadblocks in Cavendish’s road to history.

Cavendish raced in 12 editions of the Tour during his career. Yet his last start was in 2018, and he hasn’t arrived in Paris since 2015. His last Tour stage win was in 2016.

Now that he’s back to his winning ways, many are wondering — why not let Cavendish have one more shot at history?

Is a Tour return realistic? Or should the sport open its arms to one its all-time great sprinters, just for old-time’s sake? VeloNews’ editors face off on the question:

Sadhbh O’Shea — Yes

Mark Cavendish wins stage 7 of the 2015 Tour de France
Mark Cavendish wins stage 7 of the 2015 Tour de France

‘She’s from the Isle of Man, of course, she’s going to say yes,’ I hear you say. This is true, but hear me out.

Watching the opening stages of the Tour of Turkey have felt like being thrown back in time. Mark Cavendish versus André Greipel. How very 2012.

After looking down and out at the end of last season, it’s good to see Cavendish back in winning ways. His second win in as many days had all the hallmark signs of the Manx Missile of old and had confidence that he’s lacked for some time.

Prior to his success in Turkey, Cavendish was already looking like a new rider with good performances at the Grote Prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré, Coppi e Bartali, and Scheldeprijs.

I get that the Tour of Turkey field is missing most of the world’s top sprinters and the three wins do not mean that Cavendish is going to boss the rest of the season. However, the man from Laxey is showing all the signs of a late-career resurgence.

Also read: Cavendish wins for the first time since 2018

Given his history, Cavendish has done enough to be considered for a spot on Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Tour de France lineup.

Cavendish has been written off multiple times during his career, but he’s bounced back more often than not. Looking back at the 2016 Tour, he had won just three times prior to the race and was deemed to be there solely for the publicity factor. He went on to win four stages and made a huge leap in closing the gap for the all-time record.

I believe that a Cavendish with this confidence can do good things at the Tour de France this year. He is just four more stages away from equalling Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 and what a great story it would be for Deceuninck-Quick-Step if the team could help him nudge ever nearer.

I don’t think that Cavendish can do four in one race again, but there’s a real opportunity for the team to help him close the gap.

Of course, there is the complication of Sam Bennett already being set to lead the sprint charge for the team after winning the green jersey last year. I’m sure that the team will be able to work it out, but they’ll have to plan better than they did at Scheldeprijs, or Cavendish and Bennett will end up finishing second and third more often than first.

https://twitter.com/CalebEwan/status/1381992801341169668?s=20

Andrew Hood — Maybe

KONYA, TURKEY - APRIL 12: Arrival / Mark Cavendish of United Kingdom and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step Celebration, during the 56th Presidential Cycling Tour Of Turkey 2021, Stage 2 a 144,9km stage from Konya to Konya / #TUR2021 / @tourofturkeyTUR / on April 12, 2021 in Konya, Turkey. (Photo by )
Would Cavendish even want to return to the Tour? Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Like many, I was surprised and quite pleased to see Cavendish win again.

As many pointed out, class is permanent. What’s not is a guarantee of a spot in the Tour de France based on palmarès alone.

Could Cavendish end up on Quick-Step’s “Tour 8” in July? Maybe.

A lot of things would have to happen between now and June 26.

First, Cavendish would need to start winning a lot, and win against the very best sprinters in the bunch. It’s one thing to win at the Tour of Turkey against an aging André Greipel and a peloton full of second-tier teams, it’s quite something else to go up against Caleb Ewan or Peter Sagan.

Second, Cavendish would need to prove he can go the distance in the Tour. He hasn’t started a Tour since 2018, and he hasn’t made it to Paris since 2015. In fact, he hasn’t even started a grand tour since the 2018 edition. To have any hope of starting the Tour, he’d need to start and finish the Giro d’Italia, and win a few times along the way.

Could he race the Giro? Maybe. Cavendish said after winning Tuesday he has no idea what his next race might be. Right now, he’s not on any Giro long list, and the team is hoping to back Remco Evenepoel in his grand tour debut.

Also read: What Remco’s mega-contract means for Quick-Step

And if we’re perfectly honest, something would have to happen to sideline Sam Bennett. The Irishman had a spectacular Tour last year, winning twice, including on the Champs-Élysées, and ended Sagan’s run in the green jersey. Bennett is clearly the center of the team’s sprinter ambitions, and the only way Cavendish might have an outside shot of going to the Tour would be if Bennett isn’t.

So if Cavendish starts winning a lot, starts and finishes the Giro with some wins in Italy, and if Bennett is somehow prevented from racing, maybe — just maybe — Cavendish could end up at the Tour de France.

One gets the feeling, however, that Cavendish has zero ambition or expectation of returning to the Tour de France.

But maybe, just maybe, the door could crack open.

It certainly would be fun to watch.

Jim Cotton — No

Sorry Cav, no Tour this year. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Some of my best memories watching bike races came from seeing Cavendish winning at the Tour de France, and much as I’d love to see it again this summer, there’s just no chance it’s happening.

Three victories in the Tour of Turkey is a great achievement for any rider, and the 35-year-old did show some of his old kick and cunning in doing the double this week. However, look at the field Cavendish had to beat. His two top rivals this week are Jasper Philipsen and the equally veteran André Greipel. Philipsen is well up there as one of the B-list sprinters in the bunch right now, but he’s no Caleb Ewan or Pascal Ackermann, let’s face it.

However, the biggest obstacles to Cavendish starting his 13th Tour start this summer are rivals within his own team and the increasing intensity of grand tour racing.

Also read: Sam Bennett still chasing a monument victory

Sam Bennett is not only the best sprinter at Deceuninck-Quick-Step, but he could also be the fastest finisher in the bunch right now, and his relationship with lead out man Michael Mørkøv has looked more lethal than ever this winter. The Irishman is light-years ahead in the sprint pecking order at Quick-Step. And should Bennett be injured or ill come June, Deceuninck-Quick-Step has the likes of Davide Ballerini or Álvaro Hodeg to call on.

It’s been three years since Cavendish raced the Tour, which was also the last grand tour he started. Every season, grand tours have become more aggressive from the outset, and straightforward sprint stages are being made extinct. And as three-week racing has been developing over the years, Cavendish has slowly been losing condition.

Could Cavendish last three weeks in a modern Tour de France? Not this year.

If Cav is ever to return to the Tour, he will need more race rhythm in his legs, more wins under his belt, and likely an appearance at the Giro or Vuelta to get him back into the grand tour groove.

Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett, Wout van Aert, and Peter Sagan battling for the line on stage 11 of the 2020 Tour de France
Could Cavendish beat these guys? Photo: James Startt