If there was any uncertainty about Mark Cavendish’s future in the sport after his disappointing Tour de France campaign, that has been dismissed by the Team Dimension Data rider. Speaking after he and teammate Mark Renshaw finished a long way outside the time cut on Wednesday’s 11th stage of the Tour, Cavendish vowed to return to the race.
“It is obviously disappointing. But that’s bike racing. I am not the first person to be outside the time limit, and I won’t be the last. I’ll just try to come back stronger next year.”
The Manxman is now 33 years of age and has a difficult past season and a half. He took just one win in 2017, a stage in the Abu Dhabi Tour, and was then affected by glandular fever. He returned to racing at the Tour de France and appeared to be going well, but then crashed heavily at the end of stage four and was unable to continue in the race.
The fall left him with a badly fractured shoulder, something which continues to limit his movement in the joint, but he returned to racing in September in order to build up for 2018.
He got things off to a strong start with a stage win in the Dubai Tour, but crashed heavily at the start of the Abu Dhabi Tour and had to withdraw due to concussion. He also crashed in Milan-San Remo. Cavendish kept his sights focussed on the Tour and was reportedly in good shape lining out in the race, but was off his usual pace in the sprints and had a best stage placing of eighth on stage eight.
His hope was to get through the mountains and to try to win on one of the remaining flatter stages, thus getting closer to Eddy Merckx’s Tour stage win record of 34. Cavendish currently has 30 stage victories. However he got into difficulty early on during Wednesday’s stage and finished outside the time cut.
“We always knew these stages were going to be hard,” said Cavendish in an audio recording posted on the team Twitter feed on Thursday morning. “As soon as I saw them in October [at the unveiling of the race route], I knew it was going to be tough. But I just had to try. Today I tried, I finished, but I was just nowhere near fast enough.
“I had Julian [Vermote] and Jay [Thompson] wait for me on the first climb. When we got to the bottom of the first descent, it was evident [that the time cut was an issue]. I can only go my own pace on the climbs, so I told them to carry on. At least we didn’t lose four today, including myself and Renshaw.
“I never climb off… I climbed off as a neo-pro and I said ‘never again.’ It is important to finish. The finish line will always come. After the work my team does for me I can’t just stop. I have to honour that and the race.”
It is not yet clear what Cavendish’s next race will be, nor what he will target in the remainder of the season. It will likely be hard to build his motivation up again after a disappointing Tour campaign. However his declaration that he will try to be stronger for next year’s Tour gives him a long-term focus, and should dispel any speculation about whether he might retire at the end of this season.