Where next for Mark Cavendish?
Plenty has already been said and written about Mark Cavendish’s missing out on selection for Quick Step’s Tour de France team, so please excuse me for adding to that outpouring. However, rather than reflecting on what the decision means in the short term for Cav and for the 2022 Tour de France, I want to look further down the line.
I’ll start by saying I wasn’t surprised to hear that Cavendish hadn’t been selected. Quick Step have been making clear for months that Fabio Jakobsen would be their designated sprinter for the Tour, and the Dutchman’s form this season has fully justified that choice. Now that it’s been confirmed, I’m sure that the Manxman will be one of Jakobsen’s biggest supporters over the coming three weeks and will be thrilled to see his teammate win a stage, a success that would cap one of the most remarkable comebacks cycle sport has ever seen given the extent of the injuries Jakobsen sustained when he crashed at the Tour of Poland two years ago.
As for Cavendish’s future programme, he may well turn his attention to the World Road Race Championship in Wollongong. The course isn’t as sprinter-friendly as was initially expected when the Australian city was awarded the Worlds, but Caleb Ewan, who comes from close to that area, believes that he can win it even with more than 3,000 metres of climbing. “It’s not too hard – I can definitely do it – but it’s not going to be as straightforward as if it was a bit easier,” Ewan recently told Australian broadcaster SBS.
If the Australian sprinter believes that it’s within his range, Cavendish will too. He’s in peak form at the moment, as he underlined when took the British title in brilliant style in Scotland last weekend, spending all bar 20km of the 200km race in the heart of the action in the front group. The British team will need a sprinter in Wollongong, and it’s hard to see him getting passed over for that position. His route to the Worlds would either be via Spain or Britain.
There’s been lots of talk about him lining up at the Vuelta a España, alongside world champion Julian Alaphilippe, who also missed out of selection for the Tour as he works his way back from injury. It’s been 11 years since the Briton last appeared at the Vuelta, his race ending on day four when he quit the race in extreme heat. The year before, he’d won four stages (including the opening team time trial) and the points title.
Since then, the Vuelta route, which didn’t offer the sprinters too many opportunities at that point, has tilted even further away from them. This year’s recorrido provides two clear sprinting opportunities during the opening three days in the Netherlands, but only another three when the race reaches Spain.
The Tour of Britain has long been Cavendish’s race of choice in the run-up to the Worlds, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t opt to compete on home roads again, especially since his victory in the Nationals. He would be the star drawer, there will be plenty of chances for him to chase stage wins, and he would be doubly determined to do well with the British champion’s colours on his back.
Looking beyond this season, Cavendish said during the Giro d’Italia that he would like to keep racing for another two seasons. He’s determined to make up for the time that he lost to illness and its subsequent mistreatment between during his final seasons with Dimension Data. Ideally, he would continue with Quick Step, but that looks complicated given the arrival of Belgian sprinter Tim Merlier next year.
So a move elsewhere seems likely, especially if it were to come with the guarantee of a Tour start in 2023. There are plenty of teams who would be prepared to offer this, knowing that they could be part of history if Cavendish were to move ahead of Eddy Merckx in the all-time stage winner’s list and claim a 35th success.
I’d wager this is the route that he will go down. Cavendish isn’t done with bike racing or winning yet. His drive and absolute passion for the sport and racing is undimmed. He’s not done with the Tour de France either. I expect him to be there next summer, ready to chase victory in the event that he always says has forged his career and his life. He’s not done yet.
Enjoy this story? Follow Stelvio's coverage of the 2022 Tour de France online and pick up issue 1 of Stelvio magazine, a Tour de France special – subscribe or buy issue 1 at the special launch price now