Tour de France 2021 - Should Mark Cavendish take part if Sam Bennett is ruled out through injury
Mark Cavendish is winning bike races against WorldTour fields again, while Sam Bennett was a late withdrawal from the Baloise Belgium Tour with an injured hand. The 'Cav to the Tour' hype train that began when he dominated the Tour of Turkey with four stage wins has gathered yet more momentum in the last week, but would selecting him to replace Bennett be the right call?
Baloise Belgium Tour - Cavendish explains emotional sprint win, plays down new Tour de France links
When asked if he had designs on a place in Deceuninck’s Tour squad, Cavendish was eager to play down the hype.
“We have the current green jersey winner in Sam Bennett, I think it’s right to see how he’s going before we think of anything else.”
Cavendish was drafted into the Baloise Belgium Tour late, after Bennett’s hand injury ruled the Irishman out of the event.
'What a fantastic sprint' - Cavendish ecstatic after Stage 5 win
The alluring thing about the ‘Cav to the Tour’ hype is the romantic narrative behind it. Everybody loves a comeback, and there are few riders in pro cycling that can boast a bigger base of genuine fans than Cavendish. Indeed, perhaps only Peter Sagan engenders more loyalty and devotion than the Manx Missile. A comeback at the biggest race in the world, for one of its biggest stars? The drama of it all is almost too appealing to resist.
While the comments he made after the Belgium Tour are a far cry from being an explicit demand to be selected, his words do hint at a willingness to race Le Tour if – and it’s a big if – Bennett is deemed unfit to race.
After all, even when you’ve already won 30 stages, Le Tour will always be a special event in which to participate.
At this point in the season, one thing we can say is that Cavendish is – on paper – Deceuninck’s second-strongest sprinter. At least going by the form book. Of the team’s last 12 wins (going back to mid-April), Cavendish accounts for five of them, with Bennett registering a brace in the Volta ao Algarve and nothing else since he won Brugge De Panne back in March. The team's other wins have come via Kasper Asgreen, Remco Evenepoel, Remi Cavagna and Julian Alaphilippe.
Fabio Jakobsen’s long journey back to racing culminated with his appearance at the Tour of Turkey, where Cavendish bagged four of his five wins so far this season. While getting back to racing after that horrendous crash is a massive achievement in itself, Jakbosen has not yet troubled the scorers when it comes to crossing the line first in a bike race.
: Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step Green Points Jersey celebrates at arrival during the 47th Volta Ao Algarve 2021, Stage 5 a 170,1km stage from Albufeira to Alto do Malhão 510m- Loulé
Image credit: Getty Images
Alvaro Hodeg is another name on the Deceuninck roster of sprinting talent, but he hasn’t won since 2019 - and seems content to have become a part of the Deceuninck winning machine’s inner workings, rather than its shiny outward-facing exterior.
The final name on the list of possible candidates is Davide Ballerini. The Italian has had a great spring this year, with wins in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Tour de La Provence, but everything about his preparation for the summer points towards ‘leadout man for Bennett’, rather than possible sprint leader.
Indeed, perhaps most tellingly of all, when Cavendish was drafted into the lineup for Belgium Tour, he went straight in as top dog, rather than Ballerini getting bumped up. If Lefevere judges a stage win to be a decent return on the faith he put in Cavendish in Belgium, is there any reason to change the approach in France?