The long wait for Mark Cavendish is over.
His emotional victory Monday in stage 2 at the Tour of Turkey — which he doubled up Tuesday — was his first since February 2018. If you count the days, that’s 1,159.
Three years is a long time to wait for any sprinter, but chapeaux to the Manxster for hanging in there. The way teammates and rivals alike congratulated him at the line reveals the respect he carries in the bunch.
Cavendish always stood apart. His genius for sprinting, and sometimes mercurial relationship with rivals and the media created a tempest that dominated the sprinter lanes for a decade. Though his peak powers are behind him, he continues to race for the love of the sport.
The last sprinter to win 20 races in one season was 2015
The 35-year-old is among the last of the 20-plus stage-winners in the peloton.
Back in the days of easier transition stages and grand tours littered with fewer climbs, sprinters in the same ilk of Cavendish would rattle off four or five stage wins — or sometimes even more — in one grand tour.
Waaaay back in the day, Alessandro Petacchi won 24 races in 2003, including 15 stages across all three grand tours in one season.
A decade ago, winning 20 races in a season was still a realistic target for top sprinters.
Those days are long gone. Why? Here are a few reasons.
First, race organizers have slowly but steadily made stage profiles more challenging. Blame the Vuelta a España, which started packing its profile with shorter, more explosive stages laced with vertical. T0day, every race organizer wants fireworks on every day. A tidy bunch sprint after 200km of near-flat roads just doesn’t cut it anymore.
As a result of adding a string of second- and third-category climbs on “easy” days or ending a stage with a punchy, uphill finale, it’s harder and harder for pure sprinters to even make it to the finish line. Just ask riders like Tyler Farrar and Marcel Kittel what that was like.
Another factor: the decision to trim a team’s roster from nine to eight. It might not seem like a lot, but that means there are fewer warm bodies to pull for sprinters and even less room to build a pure “sprint train.” Tour de France-bound teams don’t have space for sprinters and a GC contingent under the same roof anymore. And it’s growing increasingly rare for a major GC team to even bring a sprinter to the Tour anymore.
And just as there are fewer opportunities for sprinters, the depth and quality among the sprinters in the bunch is higher than ever. It’s no longer a story of one or two top sprinters dominating a season. These days, there are at least a half-dozen, if not a bit more, top-level fast finishers capable of winning out of a sprint.
For the most part, the glory days of the sprinter trains and the 20-win seasons are largely in the rear-view mirror.
#TUR2021, Stage 2. Andre Greipel peaked 1,545 watts in the sprint. Greipel is not far from the numbers of his best days. Sprinting isn't just about numbers, but somehow don't understand because the power hasn't dropped much, but making race results is way more challenging. pic.twitter.com/Lk28UOi7SF
— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) April 12, 2021
If you’re counting wins, Cavendish now boasts 148. Cav’s former teammate and nemesis Greipel — third on Monday in Turkey — is the active rider with the most victories at 161.
Greipel confirmed this week he will retire at the end of 2022. Cavendish is on a one-year deal, but will keep racing if momentum and new-found confidence leads to more victories.
Who knows? If Cavendish keeps winning, Deceuninck-Quick-Step just might bring him to the Tour de France. He’s only four short of the all-time stage-win record of 34 stages held by — who else? — Eddy Merckx.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step off to hot start to keep win-streak alive
With Cav’s big win, Deceuninck-Quick-Step continues its lead in the winner’s column with 16 victories so far in 2021.
In the women’s table, SD Worx leads with six wins, with Team BikeExchange with four and Trek-Segafredo with three.
It continues to be challenging for second-tier teams to punch through to victory, especially at the WorldTour level. Rally Cycling saw its first win in 2021 in stage 1 at Turkey, yet the team’s quest to win a WorldTour race in Europe remains elusive.
Also read: Rally Cycling — ‘We needed that’
Second-division Alpecin-Fenix is the exception to the rule, with eight wins so far in 2021 with three different riders. Mathieu van der Poel crushed Strade Bianche, but Tim Merlier, a winner three times, and Jasper Philipsen have helped add to the haul.
It should be no surprise that Patrick Lefevere’s “Wolfpack” continues to lead the standings.
So far, Jumbo-Visma is keeping it close at 13, with Ineos Grenadiers at 10. Every team in the men’s WorldTour has won at least one race so far in 2021, except for Intermarché Wanty Gobert.
Patrick Lefevere prides himself on leading the win category every year and likes to point out he manages it on budgets much smaller than some of his direct rivals.
Of course, Lefevere’s MO is focusing on sprinting and the classics, but he has delivered an impressive string of victories over the years. Lefevere has never won a grand tour as a manager, but counts more wins in monuments, grand tour stage wins, and smaller stage races than any active manager by a long shot.
In fact, different iterations of his Quick-Step team have led the end-of-season winner’s table every year since 2013.
Who last beat them? Team Sky, with 51 victories just ahead of Quick-Step’s 50 in 2012. Who helped pushed them over the top? Mark Cavendish, who won 15 times in his lone season with the UK juggernaut.
Primož Roglič delivers best win so far in 2021
If you missed Saturday’s final stage at Itzulia Basque Country, it’s worth finding a replay. By far, it was the most dynamic and impressive day of stage racing we’ve seen so far in 2021.
If you haven’t already, click here to read Sadhbh O’Shea’s excellent analysis on why Roglič made the deal on the road last weekend, and why he was right at Paris-Nice to not “gift” that stage that triggered so much social media debate.
Everyone makes a lot about how Deceuninck-Quick-Step plays the tactics in the classics. Jumbo-Visma rode a near-perfect final stage, slotting riders into early moves, and then taking advantage of the collective interests of its rivals.
Roglič had the nose to follow Astana and Movistar when they attacked over a summit midway through the stage to gap overnight leader Brandon McNulty, and then he poured it on during the penultimate climb to gap Pogačar once he was given the green light to ride.
Roglič then made a deal with his fellow escapees not to challenge for the win to assure he’d make it to the line to secure the overall.
That’s a masterclass on how you race a bike.
Chris Horner breaking down the action
In case you haven’t checked these out yet, the race reviews from ex-pro Chris Horner are well worth viewing.
No one better breaks down the action than Horner. Back in his racing days, he was a go-to quote because he could tell you exactly what was going on in the race and why.
He now shares his racing acumen on his YouTube channel, “The Butterfly Effect”, and his breakdown of Saturday’s stage at Itzulia Basque County is as good as a tactical summation of the day you’ll find.
Who didn’t miss Paris-Roubaix over the weekend?
It’s now been two springs in a row without the “Hell of the North.” Fingers crossed that the rescheduled dates in October hold up.
The race dates back to 1896, and is one of cycling’s oldest. How disruptive is COVID-19? Just consider that the only times the race has not been contested since its founding was World War I (1915-18) and World War II, when the editions from 1940 to 1942 were canceled. And how much do the French love their racing? Roubaix was back on the calendar in 1943, with Belgian rider Marcel Kint winning. Troops were still fighting not very far away.
Here’s a good trivia question: who is the defending Paris-Roubaix winner? Philippe Gilbert in 2019. Seems like a long time ago.