Patrick Lefevere has described the absence of Mark Cavendish at the 2022 Tour de France as “heartbreaking”, having not selected the sprinter for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s eight-man squad.
“We always take the decision with a hand on the heart and we think we’ve made the right decision,” the Belgian team boss told CyclingTips and Radsport. “Not after one night but after taking a lot of time and looking at the conditions of the riders.
“Of course, it’s heartbreaking to not have Mark here. He knew already from January that Fabio would do the Tour and he would do the Giro. But of course, he called me Tuesday evening and said ‘I did my second best wattage ever in the British Championships so you have to know that if something happens I will be ready,’ very professional.”
Tim Declercq’s COVID-19 positive and removal from the Tour squad gave Cavendish fans hope that the Manxman might make the team against the odds, as he did last year. But the French road race champion Florian Sénéchal was selected instead, and Lefevere insists that the only chance Cavendish had was if Fabio Jakobsen, the team’s sprinter, hadn’t been able to start the race.
Cavendish will leave Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl at the end of this year after returning for two seasons, rejuvenating his career with four stage wins and the green jersey at the Tour de France last year. The winner of 34 stages is in the process of finding a new home for 2023 and Lefevere would like to see him at the French Grand Tour in 2023, “I hope for him,” he said.
Conspiratorial internet users had suggested Lefevere was looking out for his compatriot Eddy Merckx and protecting the record number of Tour de France stage wins he shares with Cavendish, and by not bringing the sprinter stop any chance that the Brit will take number 35 and stand alone in the record books. But Lefevere, in classic Lefevere manner, shut that down.
“I’m an old man. I’m 67. I’m not untouchable but I don’t read critics,” he said. “I don’t care about critics. The [indecipherable] text is not really what I mean but it really takes its toll. We answer with the pedals and everyone has to shut up if we win.”
With a stage one win and yellow jersey, Quick-Step have in some way answered any doubts about what they’re here to do, but the proof will be if and when Fabio Jakobsen takes his maiden Tour stage.
“We knew that Yves [Lampaert] was in good shape, everyone who is here is in good shape,” Lefevere continued of his yellow jersey wearer and accompanying squad. “Specialized gave us special tyres for the conditions.”
But Lampaert didn’t fancy wearing the new Specialized TT5 helmet?
“He’s a traditional guy,” came Lefevere’s response, laughing.
“We trusted his normal outfit more. I thought it was maybe not the case to use it in the first TT.”
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s strategy won’t change much now they have yellow, they would have raced at the front whether it was for Fabio Jakobsen or a rider in the yellow jersey.
“Of course,” Lefevere said of whether his team will try and keep the yellow jersey for as long as possible. “[Lampaert] wants to go to Belgium with it.”
To do that, Lampaert will have to survive the wind and the charge of Wout van Aert over the three flat stages leading up to the Tour de France’s arrival in Lampaert’s native Belgium.