Mark Cavendish’s move to Deceuninck-QuickStep for the 2021 season raised a few eyebrows when it was first announced, but so far the signs have been incredibly encouraging that the Manx Missile may yet get close to the form that saw him win 30 Tour de France stages.
Those stage wins came during a period of total dominance for the British sprinter, riding on HTC Highroad and then later, Etixx QuickStep, a previous incarnation of what we now know as the Deceuninck team. The years that followed that peak saw Cavendish in the wilderness a little bit, struggling with Epstein-Barr virus for a protracted period and never seeming to be at the right end of a bike race.
All that has changed in 2021, with his third place on Wednesday at Scheldeprijs proving he is somewhere close to his best level.
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This sentiment is backed up by comments from Wilfried Peeters, Deceuninck sports director.
“[Cavendish’s third place] pleasantly surprised us. The disappointment [at not winning] would be a lot bigger if we hadn't won anything yet this season. The fact is that we have to learn from it,” Peeters told Het Laatste.
But I want to end on a positive note. Cav is now really close to winning. In the Tour of Turkey? Of course, it will depend on little things, but yes it's possible.
The belief that Cavendish might soon return to the top spot in the results of a bike race has been growing steadily for some weeks, after strong performances at Settimana Coppi e Bartali where he placed second on the opening Stage 1a and wore the overall leader’s jersey for a day by virtue of Deceuninck’s excellent team time trial in Stage 1b, and another second place at Grote Prijs Jean-Pierre Monsere.
These results may not compare favourably to the ones Cavendish enjoyed in his pomp, but they speak to a re-finding of drive and form that has been missing for a number of years. They also speak to a renewed ability to perform in the classics, a set of races never traditionally identified as the Manxman’s favoured hunting ground. It’s almost like the Deceuninck-QuickStep philosophy is rubbing off on Cavendish.
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Next up, Cavendish heads to the Tour of Turkey, which should provide him with plenty of opportunities to notch that first win in his new blue jersey and – unlike at Scheldeprijs – he will not be playing second fiddle to Sam Bennett. Instead, he appears to have been given the nod to lead the team’s sprinting efforts – five of the stages are sprinter-friendly at the eight-day tour – ahead of Alvaro Hodeg and the returning Fabio Jakobsen.
It’s another positive sign in a long sequence of them, which all point to Turkish delight next week for the Manx Missile and his fans around the world.
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