Mark Cavendish continued his return to winning ways on Sunday, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider winning the final stage of the Belgium Tour.
Cavendish beat some of the world’s on-form sprinters in Beringen and has surely strengthened his hand should he want to ride the upcoming Tour de France, with Sam Bennett’s knee injury threatening to rule him out.
In his post-race interview he would not comment on whether he has a chance of taking Bennett’s place on the Belgian team’s roster, saying: “We have the current green jersey winner in Sam Bennett, I think it’s right to see how he’s going before we think of anything else.”
Rumours have been swirling about whether Cavendish, who already has 30 Tour de France stage wins to his name, will go to this year’s race, which begins in Brittany in less than two weeks. He took Bennett’s place this week after the Irishman suffered a knee injury, and the success can’t harm his chances should his team-mate be unfit.
Sunday’s victory came on the back of some characteristically sterling work from his team, who were also working to protect the overall lead of eventual overall winner, Remco Evenepoel. Holding position in the closing kilometres, they came to the front with 1800m to go, out riding the Lotto-Soudal team of stage three winner Caleb Ewan, and dominating the front.
While final lead-out man Michael Mørkøv released Cavendish perfectly, he ended up in a head-to-head drag race with Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), the Belgian even getting ahead but Cavendish was able to cross the line first.
The race was Cavendish’s third opportunity to sprint in the last eight days. Towards the end of Friday’s third stage he lost Mørkøv’s wheel and finished well outside the top 10. But at last Sunday’s Elfstedenronde he placed second behind Alpecin-Fenix’s Merlier, who has been one of the riders of the year, with six victories so far.
“Quite a hectic finale today, which was normal, as every team wanted to be there and fight for positioning and for the win, but I had a superb team around me, with the boys doing everything to keep me at the front” said Cavendish in a team press release.
“We knew what we had to do and we did it, and I couldn’t have asked for more. It’s my first time in the Belgium Tour and to win here, against so many sprinters who will be at the Tour de France in two weeks, makes this victory even more beautiful. I’m incredibly happy!”
After fearing his career was over at the end of 2020, Cavendish found a home at Deceuninck-Quick-Step, the squad he rode for between 2013 and ’15, and has since undergone a renaissance. Prior to this year the 36-year-old had not won since the Dubai Tour in February 2018, but this year alone he has won more than in that season and the one before.
After a number of early season podiums he dominated April’s Tour of Turkey, winning four stages. However, Sunday’s victory in Belgium eclipses those as he was competing with some of the best.
Not only was Merlier present, so was Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Dylan Gorenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) and, of course Ewan, who was only able to finish ninth.
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