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Mark Cavendish didn’t miss a beat at the Tour of Oman after winning stage two on Friday, his scalp exciting fans and encouraging one rival to think the “old Cav” was back.
The veteran sprinter, a day after finishing second to Fernando Gaviria, got the better of the Colombian and a consistent Kaden Groves to take his first win of the season, the race lead and green jersey.
There was an uncharacteristic calm after the bunch sprint finish, along the coast where simple fishing boats and a car wreck were moored on sand exposed at low tide.
It’s a basic operation in Oman and, like most races outside of Europe, there are no team coaches that provide privacy. Cycling reverts back to its simple, working-class roots.
Riders sat on plastic chairs placed outside, under the sun, between sedans allotted to each squad a short walk down from the finish line, where they debriefed and got out of sweaty kit.
Cavendish changed uninterrupted and then walked to the podium where he met a film crew. He spoke to the camera with a can of Monster energy drink in hand. It’s surely not a beverage Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl nutritionists would recommend but Monster sponsors Cavendish; he’s an ambassador for them.
Those around Cavendish may be crafting romantic narratives about his return to form after years in a winless wasteland but the man himself, who for some reason won’t speak about his 2022 race program beyond the Tour of Oman and UAE Tour, or the Tour de France, where he made a resounding comeback last year, is clearly all business.
Sat behind the podium on another white plastic chair, waiting for the ceremony to begin, Cavendish spoke with Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Peio Goikoetxea Goiogana, who was on his left having been awarded the jersey for the most active rider. Soon after someone else from the Spanish team approached and then appeared to take a selfie of the three of them.
The “Manxman”, at 36, is older than his rivals, some of whom are young enough to remember growing up watching him compete at the Tour de France every year on TV.
The dynamic between him and them is different from what it was against former nemeses like Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. It’s two different peer groups.
Cavendish underwent the podium ceremony where he was presented with fresh flower bouquets and red gift boxes — sans podium girls or overt pomp — before doing another interview round with a red Specialized face mask on.
Groves had noted the day before that Cavendish had been quick to pass him in the last 100m or so of stage one and pip him to second.
On Friday, Gaviria credited the “Manxman,” too, after his UAE Emirates team didn’t nail timing on the second stage.
“The last two corners we are in front and then we need to start the sprint long and then the guys come in from the back. Sometimes you lose. It’s not nice but it’s cycling,” Gaviria said.
“I’m really happy because my teamwork really hard for me today and that is the job, enjoy the victories and enjoy the loss. We’ll see the next stages, for sure we try again. I’m happy with my performance.”
The 27-year-old also in the final had got closed in on the barrier, which forced him to slow a little, but he didn’t make excuses.
“For that I don’t lose because Cav passed me faster and that’s the truth,” he said.
“Cav now is in good shape because I saw yesterday in the climb he move good and also today he did a really good sprint.
“It’s nice to have old Cav in the peloton.”
Cavendish declined to speak to media after stage one, but he had to as the winner on day two and did so pragmatically.
He talked about the finish, and how he had taken confidence from his second-place the day before, especially considering his interrupted pre-season.
“I’ve only been on the bike for six weeks,” Cavendish said.
“We don’t have an experienced team here. Everyone is committing really hard and actually this team once we work together for a while, we’ll be pretty formidable, I think.
“I can’t really complain about anything. Obviously, if it was a more experienced team, it would be a lot more dialed but all you can say is everyone committed.
“Iljo [Keisse] did a monster pull in the last kilometer, which kept me up, so I’m happy with the guys.”
How competitive Cavendish is this season remains to be seen.
Asked next about Gaviria’s comment, the resurgence of “old Cav”, he didn’t gush, boast or blush while wearing the red leader’s jersey.
“It’s nice to be competitive again. It’s just nice not to be sick,” Cavendish said before walking away.
The 2011 world champion wasn’t in the estimation of rivals at the start of the Tour de France last year, but a winning season debut in Oman and a hit out at the UAE Tour later this month may set the tone and change the dynamic between him and them.
Right now, “old Cav” is somewhat sentiment. It’s an “honor” for him to compete against them and vice versa.
But if Cavendish continues to win instead of wane, could he become a force to once more fear? He is, cautiously, acting the part, and Monster, for one, is backing him.