It was a hard-fought win that sent cycling fans into raptures and heralded the return to winning ways for one of the sport’s great talents.
We’re talking, of course, about Stage 2 of the Tour of Turkey which concluded on Monday with a bunch finish, and with Mark Cavendish plotting an unerring line through the fray to emerge victorious ahead of Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Fenix).
The video went down a storm on Twitter, with pundits and fans united in the simple joy of watching one of the sport’s greats win once again. The win was wonderful news for Cavendish, but it also presented plenty of questions, chief among them: ‘what’s next?’
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Well, he didn't hang around to answer it. The Manx Missile followed up his glorious return with another victory on Stage 3, further stoking talk of a return to the Tour de France. Don't forget that Cavendish is just four shy of Eddy Merckx' record of 34 stage wins at the Tour. The reality is to win four more stages seems impossible, but there is romance left in the idea yet still.
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Winning a couple of days of the Tour of Turkey won’t quite cut it on its own. He’ll need to power on through the next few races and demonstrate real value to Deceuninck-QuickStep with more wins and – no offence to the riders in Turkey – he’ll have to beat the fastest sprinters in the world if he is to prove he can deliver at the Tour.
The self-styled Wolfpack don’t set much store in sentimentality – so it would be surprising to see Cavendish picked on anything other than his racing merits, but even in the form of his life, the notion of choosing him for the Tour team throws up some problems.
Chief among these is Sam Bennett, who is the best sprinter in the world right now and the 2020 green jersey. It would require a revolutionary change in status to see Cavendish picked ahead of Bennett for outright leadership of Deceuninck in the sprints.
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Can Cavendish parlay his prodigious skills as a race-winner into becoming a word-beating domestique, perhaps? The evidence from Scheldeprijs does not really support that theory. At the Belgian sprinters’ classic we saw Cavendish sitting on Bennett’s wheel instead of vice versa, with neither rider able to outsprint the eventual winner, Philipsen. Had Cav been working for Bennett instead of riding his train as a ‘sweeper’, the result might’ve turned out better for the team. If Cavendish can become a valued lieutenant to Bennett much the same way as Michael Mørkov has, that might be the Manxman’s best path to the Tour.
Cav is no stranger to working for others on the team when the need arises, but he will also need plenty of support himself if he is to get to Paris – particularly in the mountains where he is no stranger to the battle against the time cut. He hasn’t actually finished a Tour de France since 2015.
With all these elements considered, the prospect of Cavendish at the 2021 Tour de France is an unlikely one, but so too seemed the prospect of him winning another bike race even six months ago.
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