Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
It has been a long four years in the fast world of bike racing for Mark Cavendish. But the former great is back in a race leader’s jersey for the first time since February 2017 and edging closer to an elusive sprint win.
Cavendish took a close second-place at Coppi e Bartali on Tuesday, centimeters away from his first victory in more than three years. Deceuninck-Quick-Step sport director Tom Steels knows he can go one better.
“I expect a good year from him. I see him once we get some more stage races that suit him, he will start winning again, that’s for sure,” Steels told VeloNews. “We saw already on first training camp condition-wise he physically is still OK to really compete. We did some small races on camp, and he was winning a lot of them – and the level is high throughout the team. I was thinking ‘He’s back.’”
Jakub Mareczko (Vini Zabu) s'est offert Mark Cavendish ce matin lors de l'étape 1a de la Semaine Internationale Coppi & Bartali. L'Allemand Marius Mayrhofer (20 ans) complète le podium. Un chrono par équipes (14km) aura lieu cet après-midi. #CoppieBartali pic.twitter.com/ncnkVIXtki
— Le Gruppetto (@LeGruppetto) March 23, 2021
Cavendish has been thrown into a program of lower-tier races this winter as he gets the wheels rolling on his second tenure at Deceuninck-Quick-Step. The 35-year-old has twice come close to erasing the question mark over his ability to keep the wins coming through the twilight of his career, scoring second-place at GP Monseré earlier this month before being edged out of victory by Jakub Mareczko on Tuesday morning.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step went on to take third place in the Coppi e Bartali team time trial Tuesday afternoon, putting Cavendish back into a position he may have grown unaccustomed to – as the leader of a race.
“I couldn’t be happier to at least get to lead the race after day one, especially as it’s the first time in four years that I lead a stage race,” Cavendish said Tuesday. “Two podiums in a day and the leader’s jersey here, it’s not too bad. Though we just missed the wins, I am extremely proud of our five-man group here.”
With Sam Bennett, Davide Ballerini, Álvardo Hodeg, and Florian Sénéchal, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step stable is packed with top-level sprinters. And although Cavendish is not likely to start a grand tour this year, Steels said it’s not out of the question if the “Manx Missile” gets some wins in his legs.
“Why not? He is still Mark, and I think the way he’s going one way or the other, he will start winning again because everything is there to win races,” Steels said, who also worked with Cavendish at Quick-Step in 2013 through 2015. “He just needs some luck to win races, but he’s ready. I mean, what we’ve seen from him already we haven’t seen from him in the last two years, so I think he’s back and he’s enjoying himself, and he has no pressure.”
Could Cavendish be adding to his 48 grand tour victories sometime soon?
With the competition for sprint supremacy both inside and outside his team as fierce as it is now, it’s hard to imagine. But as Steels points out, whether Cavendish wins at a 2.1 race in March, of the Champs Élysées in high summer, he’s done it all already.
“I mean, he is Mark Cavendish, he was probably the best sprinter of the last 40 years,” Steels said. “He’s already proved everything he has to prove, he just has to enjoy the bike and the wins will come. For sure he will win races again this year.”