Mark Cavendish is settling in well at Dimension Data, but he still has happy memories of his time with Etixx-Quick Step and is finding it hard to get used to racing against his former teammates.
The 26-time Tour de France stage winner joined the African team in the off-season and notched his first podium finishes of 2016 in last week’s Dubai Tour, finishing second on stage one and third on stage four to eventual general classification winner Marcel Kittel.
Cav spoke to Sporza ahead of this week’s Tour of Qatar, where he won four consecutive stages on his way to the overall classification three years ago, and revealed that he was enjoying his new surroundings.
“I’m happy to be back in Qatar,” Cavendish said. “I’ve missed the last two years, I haven’t done it since I won in 2013 and I’m really looking forward to racing here again.
“It’s superb [at Dimension Data], it’s really good fun, it’s really relaxed. I’ve actually only done a few days racing, we only had one training camp, so I don’t know everyone so well yet, but we’re definitely having a lot of fun.
Despite leaving Etixx-Quick Step, Cavendish won’t be short of Belgian company at his new outfit, with former teammate Serge Pauwels already with the team and directeur sportif Jean-Pierre Heynderickx joined by soigneur Stefan Szrek.
Cavendish said: “I love it! At the end of the day, I was super happy with Etixx as well. I haven’t left Etixx with any bad feelings at all. In fact, I miss the people there, I miss some great people that I had great times with.
“I’ve worked with Szreky at Sky and Jean-Pierre’s funny. I love Belgium, I’ve always said I love the Belgian people and I think they’re the best people to work with in cycling, so it’s nice to have them around in the team as well.
“It’s nice seeing him [Julien Vermote] in Dubai. Obviously, it wasn’t so nice having to race against him. It felt so weird, having to hit elbows with the guys in the sprints, I didn’t really like it. But it’s a job, it’s our sport, it’s what we do.”
Highlights of Dubai Tour stage one
Cavendish spoke about his dream of Tour and Olympic success this summer, with the 30-year-old targeting a day in the maillot jaune in July before the track events in Rio, which take place between 11 and 16 August.
“I’m proud to be British and I’m proud to represent my country and the Olympic Games is the highest point that you can achieve while wearing the jersey of the flag you were born under,” Cavendish said. “It’s being proud to represent my country at the highest level and that’s really it.”
Cavendish also spoke about how watching his friends compete at the London Olympics in 2012 stoked his desire to return to the track and led to his lofty ambitions for 2016.
“The guys who were there were guys I’ve grown up with, Geraint [Thomas] and Ed Clancy,” Cavendish said. “You saw how well they all rode together there in London and I thought, ‘why not?’ We’ll see what we can do. I started to get slowly back into racing on the track. Actually, I think I might be good enough so we’ll try and give it a shot!
“It will be difficult, it might not be manageable, but if we set out a plan we’ll try our best and see what happens.”