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Mark Cavendish ‘disappointed’ he could not deliver win in final race with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl

Future uncertain for Cavendish while Iljo Keisse retires to take on DS role at Belgian outfit.

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Mark Cavendish fell short in delivering victory in his final race Sunday in a Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) relegated Cavendish to second in the Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen/Kempen Classic as the Manx rider ends 2022 with his future still undefined.

“I am disappointed not to win my last race with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, but I am proud of the boys and of the way we raced,” Cavendish said Sunday. They were strong today, really committed and gave me a good leadout. I wanted to take the victory also for them, but it wasn’t possible.”

The podium marks the end of the era for Cavendish at Quick-Step.

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He joined the team for the 2021 season after a tearful goodbye at the end of the previous season when Cavendish was unsure if he’d race again.

The 37-year-old equaled history at Quick-Step the next year when he won four stages at the 2021 Tour de France to pull even with Eddy Merckx on the all-time stage win list. This year he won five times, including a stage at the Giro d’Italia, but was overlooked for a return to the Tour.

Cavendish was beaten Sunday by Merlier, who moves across to Quick-Step in 2023. The Belgian team is firmly committed to Fabio Jakobsen, with Merlier slotting in as the team’s No. 2 sprinter.

That means Cavendish is squeezed out of the team that will race as Soudal-Quick-Step in 2023.

Cavendish’s future, meanwhile, remains unresolved. He said he’d like to race at least one or perhaps two more seasons.

Last race for Iljo Keisse

Iljo Keisse, right, waves goodbye in last pro race. (Photo: Mark Van Hecke/Getty Images)

Sunday’s race also marked the retirement of Belgian journeyman Iljo Keisse.

The soon-to-be 40-year-old Belgian called it a career after 18 years in the pro ranks. Thirteen of those were with Quick-Step, where he raced eight grand tours, 17 Monument starts, and took five wins, including a stage at the 2015 Giro.

“It’s an emotional day, but on the other hand I’m happy my career is over and I’m ready for a new chapter as this chapter definitely was long enough. I didn’t have a super season this year, so that’s why I’m quite OK with saying goodbye,” Keisse said Sunday.

“I am quite proud of the years in the team and all the recognition I get now from teammates and the other riders in the bunch,” he said. “I still have the Six Days of Gent on my agenda and then a special event in November, and I’m already feeling emotional thinking about the latter taking place in the Kuipke, as that will be my final competition and everyone who meant something for me will be there.

“Afterwards, I look forward to taking over the role of sports director. It will be something new, but I am confident it will work out.”