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Mark Cavendish isn’t done with professional racing. After an emotional interview at Gent-Wevelgem in which he said the race might be “perhaps the last race of my career,” he lined up at the mid-week sprinter’s classic Scheldeprijs and hopped in the day’s early breakaway.
“I don’t have a desire to stop,” he said before the race kicked off.
The source of Cav’s Gent-Wevelgem interview was a combination of his current contract status and rumors that the COVID cancellations would make Gent-Wevelgem one of the last races of the season. Cavendish hasn’t signed a contract for 2021 yet, and the lack of clarity around his future had him worried the race could be a rather unceremonious departure from professional cycling.
“There were rumors at the start of the race that the rest of the races would be cancelled,” Cavendish told reporters at the start of Scheldeprijs on Wednesday morning. “I don’t have next year sorted yet and it dawned on me that it could be the last race of the season and potentially my career.
“Obviously, I wear my heart on my sleeve and especially with racing here in Belgium. Here in Scheldeprijs was my first win as a professional. I was looking forward to this race and I was enjoying racing in Belgium. It’s pure racing like when I was a kid again.”
Cavendish has struggled with form in recent seasons. His last victory was in February 2018, and he’s struggled with a slow recovery from the Epstein-Barr virus. He remains one of the winningest cyclists in history, with 30 Tour de France and 15 Giro d’Italia stages to his name, a world championship in 2011, and 146 pro wins. The drought since 2018 feels particularly parched after years spent storming finish lines.
“That’s relative,” he said of his lack of results in recent years. “Eighty percent of riders don’t win a race in their career, you know. I’m fortunate that I’m looked at if I don’t win it’s a problem.
“In 2016 I made a jump to give something back to the sport I worked with Qhubeka. I looked at using what I’ve done in the sport to give back to the sport I love.
“To see it grow in the UK, to see kids and people riding and loving the sport – I know there’s more than winning to give to the sport. Of course, I want to win but unfortunately, it’s how it is. If I’m second it’s looked at as bad, whereas if another rider is second then it’s possibly good.”
Gent-Wevelgem did not turn out to be the final race of Cavendish’s 2020 season, but without a ride yet for 2021 the future remains uncertain. If it’s up to Cavendish, he’ll be turning pedals in the pro peloton again next year.
“I don’t want to stop,” he said. “I love this sport. I give my life to this sport and I’d like to continue riding my bike.”