Twenty-four hours after the Belgian squad were humiliated at Het Nieuwsblad – placing three men in the decisive move but failing to stop Ian Stannard (Team Sky) from winning – Cavendish proved as reliable as ever, taking the bunch sprint ahead of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Elia Viviani (Sky).
It was Kristoff’s team who had taken over in the closing stages and Cavendish’s win seemed to come without a lead-out train, but he wasn’t in the mood to be critical of his team afterwards – not the riders, at least.
“I had no lead-out but the team was incredible the whole day,” Cavendish told Sporza. “We talked this morning and I think that [Etixx sports director] Wilfried Peeters didn’t think I could make it [to the finish]. At least the riders all believed in me.”
Cavendish didn’t only survive the climbs that came in the second half of the race: he was part of the leading group of 20 that went clear up the Oude Kwaremont, and which included four Etixx teammates. It seemed as though it might stay away, but MTN-Qhubeka led the chase and the race came back together.
“I’m super happy to win in Kuurne – that’s two times I’ve won it now – and especially after the … unfortunate incident yesterday,” said Cavendish. “It was nice for Etixx-QuickStep to get a win on the opening weekend.
“The lads all committed 100 percent to me all day. They were looking after me.”
Asked whether his ability to follow the top riders up the Kwaremont was testimony to his climbing ability, Cavendish responded: “I’m not a bad bike rider, to be fair. And I’m in by far the strongest team. We had five there, which shows the strength in depth. You saw it yesterday. There was a bit of a f*** up at the end, but you saw the strength of the team.
Ian Stannard talks about his against-the-odds Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory
“To have everyone commit 100 percent to the sprint was great,” Cavendish continued. “Tom said on the bus this morning, ‘I’ll lead out Cav.’”
Ahead of Milan-San Remo, it was also a morale-boosting victory over last year’s winner, Kristoff. While the Norwegian, who raced on Saturday, complained of having “sore legs all day,” and claimed that Cavendish was “maybe fresher,” Cavendish said: “I’m happy to beat Kristoff, one of the best riders in the world right now. I’m happy to win in the first showing against him this year.”