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BRUSSELS, Belgium (CT) – Dimension Data team owner Doug Ryder and its sport director Rolf Aldag stood in front of the same bus, wore the same logos, and spoke on the same subject: the exclusion of Mark Cavendish from Dimension Data’s Tour de France team.
They do not agree.
Mark Cavendish should be at this Tour, Aldag believes. He’s not, and Aldag says that was Ryder’s call. The two made contrasting statements at the start on Saturday.
It’s rare for these sort of disagreements to play out in such a public forum — possibly the most public forum in the sport of cycling, the first start line of a brand new Tour de France, swarming with reporters sniffing for any signs of weakness or conflict within the 22 teams.
Ryder arrived first, took questions, and answered succinctly. “It was a team decision,” he said. “We’ve selected a team based on the route and how hard it is this year. Multiple people made that decision. It was a team decision and our whole high-performance team was involved in the conversations with Mark.
“Mark is a legend of this race and it’s sad for this race that he’s not here,” he said. “We took that into account for sure and we spoke to the organizers about that as well.”
A short time later, Aldag spoke to assembled media. “There’s no secret about it,” he said. “I wanted to have [Cavendish] here and I think he would have suited our strategy, but ultimately it was a team owner decision.
“It’s within my responsibility to select a team and I called eight names, and Mark was included. The team owner has the right to overrule me, which he did. And now we have eight athletes here who have done nothing wrong and deserve full support from everybody.”
Aldag has worked with Cavendish since the early days of HTC-Highroad, and stuck with the star sprinter through almost the entirety of his career. Cavendish has 30 Tour stage wins, just four shy of the record held by Eddy Merckx. But a long battle with Epstein-Barr virus left him depleted, and he hasn’t won a stage in two years.
Aldag says Cavendish is looking better than he has since his last successful Tour, in 2016.
“I have physically seen him, I’m one of very few who have physically seen him and been following him for quite a while,” Aldag said. “I was there [at Tour of Slovenia last month] and I’ve seen a Mark Cavendish who is 300-percent better than in 2016 when he dropped out on stage two [of Slovenia] and fell asleep in my car after 20 kilometers because he was so tired. That’s why I thought he was definitely in a good path and in a good way so it was worth taking him.
“I’m not just talking about [doing it for] the media and to give him another Tour de France. I thought about the sprints and that he’s a good choice,” Aldag said.
Rumors that Aldag had already left the race were denied by Dimension Data on Saturday afternoon.
“He had a decision,” Aldag said. “Whether it’s a mistake or not we’ll never see because we don’t know what if …”