Cav's road back to the Tour de France

At the end of the 2020 season Mark Cavendish was out of contract and, he thought, out of options. Now he's back winning stages of the Tour de France

Mark Cavendish
(Image credit: Getty)

After three seasons blighted by illness and injury, Mark Cavendish surprised everyone, including himself, by gaining selection for the Tour de France. Now, in one of the sports biggest comeback stories, he's winning stages again. Peter Cossins investigates how he climbed back to the sport’s summit

The bright, hot light of a Mediterranean spring creeps under the roof of the Athens Velodrome. On the track apron in a pile of exhausted twisted limbs, lies one of cycling’s true greats, Mark Cavendish. 

Empty from the efforts set by his coach the 36-year old has collapsed spent, unable to hold himself up, let alone pedal a bike.

In many ways the image from Cavendish’s Instagram tells you much of what you need to know about the Manxman’s recent comeback. It always comes back to the track with Mark Cavendish. 

He has spoken many times about how work on the boards has helped hone the speed in his legs - most notably in 2016 when Olympic omnium prep set him up for four Tour stage wins.

His current return to the top that saw him selected for his first Tour since 2018 is no different. Indeed the roots go back even further. “When we first met, within five to 10 minutes there was a really strong connection between us,” says his coach at Deceuninck-Quick Step Vasilis Anastopoulos. 

“We soon realised that we’d raced in some of the same track meetings together, like the Revolution meeting in Manchester in 2003 and some of the Track World Cup events after that, so that provided an immediate link between us. We were both on the same page.”

Cavendish training ahead of the Tour de France

(Image credit: Deceuninck Quick Step)

It was Anastopoulos who took Cavendish to the Athens velodrome in spring this year seeking a return to winning ways. Back then they didn't dare dream it would result in him taking to the startline of the Tour in Brittany.

No one was more surprised than Mark Cavendish when, on the Monday before the Tour de France was due to start, he got a call from one of the team’s directeurs sportifs to tell him that he had been drafted into the Belgian team’s line-up for the race. 

“I was in a bit of shock. Wilfried Peeters called me and I was a bit quiet,” he admitted as he faced the media in Brest. “If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be sitting here in this spot… I have some self-belief but I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” he added.

You can read the rest of this feature in the July 1 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine, your essential companion to the Tour de France. You can buy single issues of Magazine or you can subscribe, enjoy an initial discount and get it delivered each week.

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Peter Cossins has been writing about professional cycling since 1993, with his reporting appearing in numerous publications and websites including Cycling WeeklyCycle Sport and Procycling - which he edited from 2006 to 2009. Peter is the author of several books on cycling - The Monuments, his history of cycling's five greatest one-day Classic races, was published in 2014, followed in 2015 by Alpe d’Huez, an appraisal of cycling’s greatest climb. Yellow Jersey - his celebration of the iconic Tour de France winner's jersey won the 2020 Telegraph Sports Book Awards Cycling Book of the Year Award.