What did Cavendish say this morning, anything funny, interesting?
"Sorry, what was that?"
What did Mark Cavendish say before leaving the hotel this morning?
"Ah...he said a lot of things," Michael Mørkøv reveals, not with his words but the tone says it all. Mark Cavendish is BACK at the Tour de France 2021.
His Danish lead-out man says both he and the sprinter are super excited for the first bunch sprint on stage three as they get ready to roll out from Lorient, and you get the sense that the rush in which Cavendish was rotated into the squad in Sam Bennett's is still sinking in, for everyone.
Of course, the bedlam continued on stage three, Cavendish narrowly avoiding coming a cropper, his bike destroyed and the Manxman safely rolling across the line on his own well after Tim Merlier won the stage and Caleb Ewan crashed out in a sickening fall a few hundred metres from the line.
What a story it will be, though. After Julian Alaphilippe traded the rainbow for the yellow jersey on the opening day before Mathieu van der Poel honoured his grandfather with an outlandish victory, a 31st Tour stage victory for Mark Cavendish would see ASO popping the champagne bottles early.
"I wouldn't say it's D-Day, the fact I've come back to the Tour de France and will try to sprint, I don't think that makes it the be all and end all, we've had an incredibly successful Tour de France so far," Mark Cavendish said.
"I know I'm in the best situation with Deceuninck - Quick-Step, we just have to see what happens."
Patrick Lefevere recently told Cycling Weekly how the Manxman was "very nervous" before the start in Brest and it's unlikely things have quietened down, there is no calm eye at the centre of the peloton's storm.
"The first day was the same for everyone, we all talked about it that even for the Tour de France that was stressful, especially with the amount of elevation," Cavendish said.
"Unfortunately, because of those crashes already on the first day, there was kind of a selection [on stage two], it was a little bit [less manic] but still it's the Tour, and it's an odd one this year because we've waited three days for the first bunch sprint. There's a completely different dynamic of race today, there's nothing to be gained or lost on GC...we'll just have to see what happens."
By 'see what happens' Cavendish means whether he'll be able to challenge for the win - and it turned out the race was just as hectic - but after shirking off the first question asking after his chance of victory, he eventually gets around to answering.
"I think the variables of not being able to compete are a lot less in this team. We've got the best equipment, the best team, and I know I've got good form. I'm the most confident I can be. I've got no sort of other excuses if it goes badly, but I'm not expecting the world," and then, in an honest moment, he gives a glimpse into the desire he was still the Cavendish of old. Bolshie and up for a scrap, like the Cav in his pomp during the 2010s.
"I feel like one of those modern GC riders who push it all away saying 'ah we'll see how it goes, day by day,' I don't want to be like that but I'm aware of the situation I'm in and I've just got to try and do my best."
It's hard to tell, at least at this early stage of the Tour, how much Cavendish has softened, maybe he's aging like a fine wine and the only question left is to see if it's an award-winning, or stage-winning, vintage.
When talk turns to André Greipel, who has also started winning again after a couple of barren seasons, the Manxman is gushing with praise while also issuing a remainder that him and Greipel are still here, at the Tour de France, outliving many other rivals and still at the top of the sport.
"I talked to [Greipel] the other day, yeah we had our differences and stuff, we're both competitors, but we know what it's like to be racing at this age in the peloton. Staying at the top for that many years. Riders come and go, especially sprinters, but to stay at the top for over a decade, it's not easy, I'll tell you, he's my rival but there was no-one who wanted to see him take those wins earlier this year more than me, I was as happy as anyone."
“He has enough experience. We'll see. It can go wrong three times out of four because of the chaos, and then hit the fourth time," team boss Patrick Lefevere told Het Laatste Nieuws. "If he doesn't win, nobody dies. But if he wins, that would be great for him and the team.”
Michael Mørkøv, on the other hand, promises to keep his usual cool head at the front of proceedings, and is part of the reason why Cavendish is even in the conversation for a potential 31st Tour stage victory, describing the Dane as the "best in the world" at delivering sprinters to where they need to be at the right time.
"I will stay calm," Mørkøv promises, "but if he wins I will get very un-calm."
"Look, it's the first sprint of this year's Tour, my first Tour sprint for the first few years. I know my form is okay, there is that slight unknown, I'll just have to do what I can."
While no one, least of all Cavendish who gets on well with Caleb Ewan, will have wanted to see the Australian crashing out of the race, as well as Peter Sagan being roughed up, the Manxman's chances of taking number 31 seem to be improving by the day.
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