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Tim Merlier move puts question mark over Mark Cavendish future at Quick-Step

Merlier linked to move to Quick-Step in 2023 while out-of-contract Cavendish hunts options to prolong career.

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A sprinter reshuffle could be on the cards at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

Reports buzzing around Belgian media claim sprint sensation Tim Merlier is set to swap Alpecin-Fenix for Patrick Lefevere’s crew in 2023, casting questions over the future of Mark Cavendish.

Cavendish, currently racing through the second week of the Giro d’Italia, is out of contract this winter.

Meanwhile, Dutch dynamo Fabio Jakobsen has a spot on Quick-Step’s Tour de France shortlist and the luxury of a deal through 2023 in his pocket.

With Cavendish, Jakobsen and Merlier, three fast-finishers could prove one too many for Lefevere next year.

Wielerflits reported this week that Merlier’s late-career blossom in form attracted interest from Quick-Step, UAE Emirates, Israel Premier Tech as well as his current Alpecin-Fenix crew.

According to Wielierflits, Merlier put pen to paper with Lefeverve, ending the garrulous manager’s long hunt for a top Belgian sprinter.

The news confirms earlier reporting by VeloNews that Merlier was on the cusp of a shift to Quick-Step.

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And Cavendish?

The speculation train has left the station.

VeloNews broke the story earlier this month that the Manx super-sprinter is looking to prolong his 19-year career some time longer.

“I want to continue my career for two more years at least,” Cavendish confirmed to Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday. “It’s not just that I want to continue riding. I feel I can be competitive for at least two years.”

Whether Cavendish will be staying competitive with Quick-Step in 2023 is another matter.

With Merlier and Jakobsen on the scene, there may be no space in the Quick-Step stable for Cavendish. That the 36-year-old has been squeezed out of initial Tour de France contention by young teammate Jakobsen is a suggestion of the Quick-Step pecking order.

The 36-year-old kicked for his 16th Giro victory in Budapest earlier this month but missed the mark in the three bunch sprints since.

Cavendish is planning to take the race all the way through the mountains of the Giro’s third week and currently has no training plan guiding him toward the Tour.

“Of course, I’d love to do the Tour, but I’m a professional and I’ve always been a professional and I do what’s required for my team,” he told Gazzetta. “You know I’ll always be prepared for it, but it’s not my decision. It’s not something that I think or don’t think about. I just do my job.”

For now, Cavendish will keep working for Lefevere. Stay tuned for what happens next.