Previous indications from British Cycling that Mark Cavendish might not complete the Tour de France because of his ambition of riding the Rio Olympics may have raised questions about the Manxman contesting the final sprint in Paris, but that situation may well have changed.
According to Team Dimension Data Principal Douglas Ryder, Cavendish’s current employer, he and the team are hopeful that their new signing will be battling for what would be a remarkable fifth stage win on the Champs Elysees.
Ryder spoke to CyclingTips in recent days and said that the team believes that it is possible for the 31 year old to perform strongly in the Tour, complete that race and also be in the right shape to chase gold in Rio. This contradicts previous sentiments expressed by Shane Sutton, who was until recently British Cycling’s technical director.
Sutton said in March that Cavendish had to commit to withdrawing early in order to be considered for the team.
Sutton later stood down amid controversy over what some said was bullying of riders. The Australian disputes the claims.
Now Ryder explains why he believes Paris won’t interfere with the Rio medal chances. “The last week of the Tour de France is only 600 kilometres,” Ryder explained. “The Tour de France is incredibly heavy in terms of mileage and riding [demands] until the first rest day, in the first nine days. It is really front-heavy in terms of distance.
“But do I want Mark to finish? Absolutely. For what we do and what we race for and what this team is about, for sure. Without Shane Sutton involved, will we have that conversation if he is in the [British] team? For sure. It will be a conversation that will have any day now when the decision is made.”
Cavendish has long targeted success in Rio, with an Olympic medal listed as one of his biggest remaining goals in the sport. He competed in the Games in 2008, retiring early from the Tour to be fresh, but only finished ninth with Bradley Wiggins in the Madison.
At the time he was frustrated with his compatriot, feeling Wiggins had not performed as he should have. The older rider had earlier taken three gold medals in the games.
Cavendish returned four years later believing that he could chase success in the London road race. However overconfidence on the part of British Cycling’s Dave Brailsford and others led to other teams forcing the British squad to do all of the early chasing, exhausting the riders. Cavendish missed the winning break and finished back in 29th place.
Given his age, he recognised that he likely has one remaining chance to take Olympic gold. With the road race more suited to climbers, he targeted the track and is vying for success in the Omnium.
However there is yet to be an official announcement about his selection.
Earlier this year Sutton said that Cavendish needed to finish on the podium in the world championship Omnium in London to secure the nod. He finished sixth, but did bounce back days later with Wiggins to win the Madison.
Jon Dibben was also in contention for selection but fractured his elbow in a crash in April. The Daily Mail subsequently stated that same month that Cavendish would be selected. Official confirmation of that is still pending, but the same newspaper said on Tuesday that the announcement will come on Friday.
It states that in addition to doing the Omnium, Cavendish will be the fifth man in the team pursuit lineup and could therefore also ride in that contest. Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Owain Doull will be the main four riders.
“He is an exemplary student of cycling”
Returning to the track and riding the Olympics was something that Cavendish was considering for quite some time. It was reportedly one of the stumbling blocks behind a possible contract renewal with Etixx-QuickStep last season. However Dimension Data was supportive of the ambition and the flexibility it offered is understood to be a factor in the rider inking a three year deal with the team prior to the 2016 season.
However, Ryder’s desire for Cavendish to compete the full Tour de France is without question. Asked if he wanted to see him in Paris going for the stage win, the South African was clear.
“Yes, and he will do too, depending on how the Tour goes, how the first week goes, how he is feeling,” he said. “He has been working so hard doing three sessions a day on the track and on the road. I mean, the guy has a work ethic like I have not seen in cycling. He is an exemplary student of cycling. I have never seen a guy so committed and so focussed.
“So look, we will have that conversation. But it is a premature conversation until we know he is in the team, so we will have to wait until then.”
Managing the demands of track and road training is, according to Ryder, the reason why Cavendish did the Tour of Slovenia rather than the more usual pre-Tour buildup of either the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse.
The idea was to give him a slightly lighter workload at this point in time, although his participation was ultimately cut short by illness. He was a non-finisher on stage two, and thus missing out on the final two days of competition.
He’ll work hard to be where he needs to be before the start of the Tour on Saturday week, then take on the world’s best in a race where he has already clocked up a staggering 26 stage wins.
If things go to plan, he’ll notch up multiple victories at the Tour. Thus far he has perhaps not been as successful as some envisaged: while his big sprint rivals Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) have clocked up ten, eight, eight and seven wins respectively, Cavendish has taken four.
These are a stage plus the overall in the Tour of Qatar, and one stage apiece in the Tours of Croatia and California.
However Ryder states he is highly satisfied with the return thus far from their collaboration.
“From the Qhubeka charity side and having Mark as a brand and a presence in our team, his profile has helped exponentially,” he said. “We personally couldn’t be happier in terms of the coverage that Qhubeka is getting, the donations that are coming in for the charity, which is absolutely what we race for.
“And also the focus that he has had with clients in America when we were at California; we were in Napa Valley for two days after the Tour of California, doing a client activation with Dimension Data and Deloitte, and Mark was unbelievable with the team.
“So if you are asking me if I am happy with Mark on this team, the answer is absolutely. He is an incredible role model, he has mentored the riders on our team incredibly well. He is hugely passionate about the charity and about racing for it and doing as much as he can.
“So, absolutely, we are ecstatic with him as a role model and a brand ambassador for us.”