Mark Cavendish steps in for injured Sam Bennett at Baloise Belgium Tour

The Manxman comes into the team after Bennett injured his knee in training

Mark Cavendish and Shane Archbold celebrating
(Image credit: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Mark Cavendish has stepped in for Sam Bennett at the Baloise Belgium Tour after the Irishman suffered a knee injury in a small incident when out training.

Cavendish (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) has looked close to his old self this season taking 12 top four results including four wins at the Tour of Turkey, however, he has not yet won against some of the biggest names in sprinting.

The British sprinter, however, now does have that chance after team leader Sam Bennett suffered an injury to his right knee with the Belgian team choosing to not risk it, advising the reigning Tour de France green jersey champion to rest before trying to retain that title. 

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Cavendish will be coming up against the likes of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) who returns to racing after taking two stage wins at the Giro d'Italia, with the Australian sprinter using the Belgium Tour as a leg tester ahead of the Tour.

Other big names in the sprint line-up are Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Cees Bol (DSM), Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen (both Alpecin-Fenix), among others.

This will be another big opportunity for Cavendish who has publicly said he wants to look at potential short or long-term contract negotiations in the coming weeks with Deceuninck - Quick-Step boss, Patrick Lefevere.

In a press release, the team said: "Following a small incident in training last weekend, Sam Bennett has incurred a problem with his right knee. After consultation with our medical team, it has been decided that he will not start this week’s Belgium Tour and will instead take some rest ahead of the Tour de France.

"Sam will be replaced on Deceuninck - Quick-Step’s roster for the five-day race by Mark Cavendish."

Bennett, who hasn't raced since the Volta ao Algarve in early May, will likely be disappointed with the setback so close to the Tour de France, especially with the toughest battle for the green jersey in years set to take place at the Tour. The likes of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and many more talented punchy sprinters will all be looking to steal his crown at the 2021 edition.

The Deceuninck - Quick-Step squad for the Belgium Tour is a strong one with 2019 overall winner Remco Evenepoel making his return to stage racing along with Davide Ballerini, Yves Lampaert, Zdeněk Štybar, Iljo Keisse and top lead-out man Michael Mørkøv all in the team to support Cavendish.

The Baloise Belgium Tour starts today (May 9) with a 175.3km stage from Beveren to Maarkedel where riders will tackle two and a half laps of a tricky hilly course to the finish.