Mark Cavendish – Mark Cavendish makes it three stage wins in a row in Turkey — so is he really back? – GETTY IMAGES
At the start of this week, it had been 1,159 days since Mark Cavendish’s last race victory. He is now averaging one roughly every 1,159 minutes. On Wednesday, the veteran British sprinter made it three wins in three days at the Tour of Turkey, beating Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) into second place for the third straight day as his stunning return to form continued.
In a messy sprint in Kemer, which saw several riders go through the barriers and ambulances called, Cavendish bided his time, recognizing that Philipsen – who must be getting increasingly desperate – had gone too early before powering past the Belgian to win the 184km stage from Alanya.
The first time the 2011 road world champion and 30-time Tour de France stage winner has won on three consecutive days since the Tour of Qatar in 2013 and allowed Cavendish to extend his overall lead of the race to 12 seconds.
He is unlikely to hang on to it for another day, with Thursday’s fifth stage heading uphill. But Cavendish will just be delighted to be back winning again.
Cavendish had suffered a series of setbacks since his last big year in 2016 when he won the world Madison title, four stages of the Tour de France (spending a day in the leader’s yellow jersey), Olympic omnium silver, and finished second at the road world championships.
He lost the best part of two seasons to the Epstein-Barr virus, broke his shoulder after crashing out of the Tour de France in 2017, and suffered from depression, which he revealed in an interview with Telegraph Sport last year.
It appeared last autumn as if he might have run out of road. In a tearful interview after Ghent-Wevelgem, Cavendish admitted he did not know whether he would race again, with his contract at Bahrain-McLaren coming to an end and coronavirus wreaking havoc with the season.
However, he agreed on a one-year contract with his old Belgian team, Deceuninck-Quick Step, where he spent three very successful seasons between 2013 and 2015. And he had been getting closer and closer to his first win since the Dubai Tour in 2018. Cavendish finished on the podium at Scheldeprijs last week. “It’s nice,” he said after his latest victory on Wednesday. “It’s irrelevant how many wins are in a row; it’s just nice to win again. It’s nice that the team believes in me.”
The 35-year-old preferred to pay tribute instead to his teammates who set up his win. Fabio Jakobsen, himself returning from a horrific career-threatening crash last summer, maneuvered the Deceuninck-QuickStep train into position before Stijn Steels stretched out the peloton with a big pull. Shane Archbold and Alvaro Hodeg then worked to bring Cavendish to the head of the bunch just as things were heating up. It was the Belgian team’s 800th race victory.
“At the beginning of the year, all I wanted to do was win a race, and now I have done it three times,” Cavendish reflected. “I’m proud to have racked up Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s 800th victory, but to me, the most important thing is that I’m part of this family, which is an honor.
“The most special thing about today wasn’t my win, but seeing how far into the stage Fabio got. It was beautiful to see him there, doing a phenomenal job for the squad and enjoying racing. Having him up there motivated me to finish it off. I’m proud to have such amazing teammates, and at the end of the day, that is what really makes everything special.”
Analysis: Next stop Tour de France for Cavendish?
By Tom Cary
Jokes that it is getting boring now, or that Cavendish wins are like London buses – you wait three years for one and then three come along at once – were everywhere on Wednesday, as cycling Twitter reacted enthusiastically to the Briton’s latest victory.
But perhaps the tweet which was most on the money came from rival sprinter Caleb Ewan 24hrs earlier. Reacting to Cavendish’s second win in two days, the Australian posted the famous meme of American comedian Jordan Peele sweating profusely alongside the caption: “All the sprinters watching @MarkCavendish winning again. Congrats, mate!”
Are they apprehensive? Is Cavendish a severe threat to the big boys again? Could he — whisper it — add to his 30 Tour stage wins this summer?
It is unfair to speculate. Cavendish would need to win a lot more races, and against the best sprinters in the world, for QuickStep even to contemplate taking him. The Belgian giants have such a powerful squad, with world champion Julian Alaphilippe and Sam Bennett, who, lest we forget, won two stages and the green jersey last year, likely to be the focal points. Plus, Cavendish will be 36 next month.
As a cycling fan, though, it is impossible to watch Cavendish romping to these wins and not start to imagine how he might fare against Ewan, Elia Viviani, Fernando Gaviria, Peter Sagan, Wout van Aert and all the rest of them.
Cavendish clearly just wants to enjoy the moment, understandably, given all he has been through. Asked how close he was to his best, he admitted he had not “got a clue”. “It’s hard to say about any form. We’re not playing Cycling Manager, where you can see numbers and that this is professional cycling.”
For now, it is just lovely to see him back, winning and winning in different ways. From the fifth wheel on Monday, timing his jump to perfection, leading the sprint out on Tuesday, staying patient on Wednesday before opening it up, and surging past Philipsen on the line. It is a fantastic story.