By Jonny Long
Mark Cavendish has abandoned the 2021 Ruta del Sol, his first race back in Europe after his four stage wins at the Tour of Turkey.
The Manxman quit the Spanish stage race the day before his 36th birthday, at the end of stage three, having dragged himself through a trio of hilly opening stages before two flat stages to conclude the five-stage race.
Deceuninck - Quick-step told CyclingNews that Cavendish was suffering from stomach problems and that the heat in Spain only worsened his condition.
Cavendish was filmed by a spectator struggling through stage three, dropped on an early climb and left as the last rider out on the course to battle on alone. He eventually decided to climb off and abandon the race.
Mark Cavendish el último con la lengua fuera pic.twitter.com/p4NoCoaiujMay 20, 2021
On stage two, Cavendish finished second last alongside team-mate Ian Garrison, the American sent back to chaperone him to the finish, nearly 24 minutes behind Ineos Grenadiers' Ethan Hayter. On stage one, Cavendish also finished last in 111th, 13 minutes behind 110th place.
Had he been healthy, stages four and five could have presented Cavendish with an opportunity to win a first European race of the season, having returned to winning ways at the recent Tour of Turkey.
Cavendish raced at the GP Vermarc in Belgium two weeks ago, finishing just outside the top 10 as team-mate Alvaro Hodeg took the victory.
It seemed as though the sprinter was poised to go even better than at Turkey, with Deceuninck - Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere saying Cavendish had gone on to produce stronger numbers than he'd achieved in Turkey.
"I hear that he's achieving even better number than in Turkey," Lefevere said, also taking credit for bringing the Manxman back when it looked like his career could be over.
"If I had thought it was done with him, I would not have taken him back, I said it from the start - I had nothing to lose with Cavendish. If he failed, it was his fault. If it worked, it is my credit. I thought 'we'll see'. So it worked. And I think, hey, it's my credit. Who else gave him a chance?"
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.