The Manxman will return to his former team next season, and though he took 44 race wins during his previous three-year tenure with the squad, the Belgian outfit knows that the Cavendish of 2021 will not be the Cavendish of 2013 through 2015.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him again, even if of course it is no longer the Cavendish of the past,” veteran sport director Tom Steels said Saturday. “Mark has had a few bad years. On a sporting level, we will have to rebuild step by step. I think we should first of all make sure that he can enjoy racing again.”
The 35-year-old sprint supremo has labored through several torrid seasons, first with Team Dimension Data and then Bahrain-McLaren. Cavendish struggled with illnesses, mental health issues, and simply bad legs which have added up to make it some 34 months since he last crossed the line first at a bike race.
The “Wolves” of Quick-Step are looking to nurture their returning talisman back to a good mental and physical space before the pressure comes to add to his 44-victory tally.
“We want to give him the feeling that he is physically back to normal,” Steels told Sporza. “If he feels good on the bike, we can see in the sprints again. I have no doubt that he still has the capacity to win races. But fun on the road is the number one priority.
“We don’t expect Mark to win six stages in the Tour. There are a lot of other races to get up to speed and then we have an extra sprinter, which gives us more opportunities. He also brings a lot of experience. His specific experience in sprinting can help guys like [Sam] Bennett or [Álvaro] Hodeg. When [Fabio] Jakobsen comes back, he’ll enjoy it too.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s den is packed with fast finishers, with Irishman Bennett establishing himself as the fastest man in the pro peloton in 2020, taking victories from the very first day of the WorldTour season all the way through to the Vuelta this fall. Behind Bennett, budding youngsters Hodeg and Jakobsen have both marked themselves out as talents that could be taking wins for another decade.
“He may not be the top sprinter anymore, but I think he can still give young riders like Álvaro Hodeg, and Bennett, who is sometimes very insecure, a lot of advice,” Lefevere told Belgian media Saturday.
Cavendish’s tearful outburst at the prospect of retirement after a typically Flemish edition of Gent-Wevelgem this October demonstrated his enduring love of the sport. His move to Quick-Step has booked him at least one more year in the peloton, and he’s looking to embrace that as he gladly grasps the lifeline thrown to him by his former squad.
“To say I’m excited would be an understatement,” Cavendish wrote on Twitter shortly after the transfer was confirmed.
To say I’m excited would be an understatement. Incredibly proud to announce an agreement to again join my friends @deceuninck_qst. I’ve never hidden how special my time was there, how special the people & atmosphere are & how special the Flemish heart philosophy of pure racing is pic.twitter.com/xJ6gjlijQs
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) December 5, 2020
“I’ve never hidden how special my time was there, how special the people & atmosphere are & how special the Flemish heart philosophy of pure racing is.”
If happiness is Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s first goal for Cavendish, seems they’re half-way there already.