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Mark Cavendish didn’t win Sunday’s Grote Prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré, but he seemed pretty happy to hit his first top-3 finish since the 2019 season.
Second places don’t usually mean much among sprinters, when victory is all that counts, but for the resurgent Cavendish, the act of coming close after a few sub-par seasons with Sunday’s podium was very sweet indeed.
“To be honest, I kind of forgot how it was to be in a sprint,” Cavendish said after finishing second to Alpecin-Fenix rider Tim Merlier. “I am a bit disappointed, because the team controlled the race and I felt really good, but Merlier was clever when he launched it.”
Even though Merlier won by a big gap, being back in the frame in the bunch sprints will only bolster Cavendish’s confidence. At his peak, the veteran sprinter once reeled off 20-plus victories per season. His last victory, however, came in February 2018 in the former Dubai Tour.
He’s been winless since then, and only scored one top-3 placing — third in a stage in April 2019 at the Tour of Turkey — in any race since.
Last fall, Cavendish was on the verge of retiring, but landed a deal with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, rejoining the team where he enjoyed some of his productive years.
“I think enjoying riding your bike is important for anyone wanting a long career. The racing style has changed a lot, but the stakes are still the same,” Cavendish said last week during a media call. “I love the sport. I’m fortunate to do it, and still have an ambition to do it.”
Cavendish is taking on a mixed role at Deceuninck-Quick-Step without putting too much pressure on himself. He’s slated to race next at Danilith Nokere Koerse on March 17, and said he’s feeling at home in his return with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, where he raced from 2013-15.
“There’s no better place to do it than at Deceuninck-Quick-Step,” Cavendish said. “They don’t try to reinvent cycling. They just race, adjusting to the times, and by going out and racing as a team and having fun doing it.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step was impressive Sunday across three different races in Europe.
In addition to Cavendish’s second place, Sam Bennett won the opening stage at Paris-Nice, and becomes the first Irishman to wear the race’s lead jersey since Sean Kelly. In Italy, 21-year-old Belgian rider Mauri Vansevenant won his first pro victory at the GP Industria & Artigianato.
The 35-year-old Cavendish is also slated to race Scheldeprijs, but is waiting to see how his form continues to develop before rounding out his calendar.
“I’m glad to be on the podium, but at the same time I’m disappointed,” Cavendish said Sunday. “Now I will do Nokere Koerse, which is a race I never did before, and see how things go there. I love racing in Flanders and I want to enjoy every single moment of it. We will keep trying in the next races, we’ll keep having fun and see where that takes us.”