Great champions can rise to the occasion.
Mark Cavendish appears to be doing just that as uncertainty over Sam Bennett’s participation in the Tour de France persists.
Cavendish was parachuted into the Deceuninck-Quick-Step squad for the Baloise Belgium Tour last week after Bennett injured his knee in training. He seized the opportunity with both hands to secure a stage victory against a difficult field on the final day.
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His last-minute replacement for Bennett in Belgium and his growing form have made headlines about whether the Manxman will make it to Brittany later this month. Cavendish, well used to the cycling rumor mill, was diplomatic in his response to the suggestion.
” We must see. We have the current winner of the green jersey in Sam Bennett. I think it’s fair to see how he’s doing before he thinks about anything else, ”Cavendish said after Sunday’s sprint in Beringen.
“Belgium has always been in my program and Sam wanted to do it, so I was kicked out, so it’s a happy coincidence that I’m back with [Michael] Mørkøv et le reste des gars.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Mørkøv this year, obviously he works with Sam, and everyone knows if you go behind Mørkøv you win. “
While a stage victory at the Baloise Belgium Tour is far from the hustle and bustle of a Tour de France peloton gallop, Cavendish still had to overtake Tim Merlier and Caleb Ewan – two of the most prolific sprinters this season after Bennet and Arnaud Démare – take it.
Read also : Sam Bennett and Michael Mørkøv back on the sprint throne at the Tour de France
It was a far cry from the Cavendish of just a year ago, who seemed to have almost given up on fighting in the peloton’s sprint and was in tears that the 2020 Gent-Wevelgem could be the last of his career.
Eight months later, the Manxman seems to have a new taste for his race. His laughter of joy after the finish line and his interview a million kilometers an hour after the scene, where the microphone operator had to fight to follow him, showed how thrilled he was with the victory.
“I am incredibly happy. You can’t help but talk when I’m excited. It was nice to sprint against Caleb, ”Cavendish said.
“Tim is arguably the best sprinter around, and I saw him go early, that’s where he’s strongest. I wanted to stay on Mike a little longer, but had to go to 200 and stripped him off. [The lead] kept changing and then I felt myself move on to the end. I am on the moon. “
Can Cavendish be part of the Tour de France team?
Despite his victory, claiming one of the eight Deceuninck-Quick-Step places in the Tour de France peloton is still a difficult request for Cavendish.
Once a death-cert for a winning streak on the grand tour, Cavendish hasn’t entered a three-week race in three years.
Struggles with Epstein Barr and a slip in form meant the Manx missile last performed a grand tour in the 2018 Tour de France – which he left after missing the time cut on Stage 11.
It was a long and difficult return to the top of the field, and Cavendish had to wait until April of this year to regain that sense of victory. His four stage victories on the Tour of Turkey were a sign that the Cavendish of yesteryear was still around, but his victory on Sunday was arguably worth more than these.
Read also : Could Mark Cavendish return to the Tour de France?
Yet its place on the Big loop the roster depends a lot on Bennett’s reaction when he returns to practice this week. The Irishman is still a safer bet than Cavendish, and Deceuninck-Quick-Step will be looking forward to having him in France.
If Bennett was unable to overcome his knee injury in time for the Great departure, so Cavendish certainly presented his case as his replacement.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere has expressed doubts about Cavendish’s ability to compete in the Tour de France this year, but has changed his mind in recent days.
However, Lefevere revealed last week that Cavendish on the Tour de France depends on more than form. Cavendish wants a better deal if he is to face the pressure cooker in the world’s biggest race.
A shrewd businessman, the Belgian knows where Cavendish comes from.
“For him, that means running with pressure, under the magnifying glass of the media,” Lefevere wrote in the news magazine before Cavendish’s success in Belgium. “It’s not fair to have a rider with a minimum contract as a Deceuninck-Quick-Step leader sprinter, with all the pressure and expectations that come with it. I agree with Marc on this.
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“That’s something I’m thinking about right now: extending Cavendish for the Tour, in better conditions. At least to solve this problem. With the level he has now, Mark wants to continue for at least a year. At least we’ll talk about it together.
Remco Evenepoel is another potential Bennett replacement, but asking the 21-year-old for two consecutive big laps could be too much for his young body.
If Cavendish earns a spot on the Tour, question marks remain as to whether he will be able to handle the stress of a three week race after so long without making one.
It’s hard to predict, but would it really matter if he didn’t make it to Paris?
Even if he rides the full three weeks, Cavendish is unlikely to be a match for someone like Peter Sagan in the green jersey competition.
Si Cavendish, with the support of Mørkøv et al, may score even one victory in the early stages of the sprint, then he could go home sooner with his head held high.
The public attention that would be drawn by taking Cavendish to the Tour de France would also not detract from Lefevere’s search for additional sponsors for 2022.