Mark Cavendish has signed a new contract with Astana Qazaqstan and will ride on in 2024 with the aim of bettering the Tour de France stage win record of 34 - which he currently shares with Eddy Merckx.
The legendary British sprinter had initially announced during the 2023 Giro d'Italia that he would call time on his career at the end of the current season. However, having crashed out of the 2023 Tour de France, it was today confirmed that he will postpone retirement with the possibility of taking the stage win record still in front of him.
“It’s not over yet,” read a caption Astana Qazaqstan shared on social media along with a video montage of Cavendish at the Tour - before later confirming that the 38-year-old will ride on.
"Obviously, crashing out of the Tour de France was not a finish of my career I hoped for. But it is what it is," Cavendish said in a statement shared by the team. "Together with Astana Qazaqstan, we grew incredibly as a team this year and it felt like a real family.
"So, the first thing Alexandr Vinokurov said to me there at the Tour de France after my crash was 'why not do another year?'. Well, my first reaction was 'no, no'. I was not ready to change my decision, I was in peace with it... Then, I discussed it with my family, my kids and I got their answer: 'you should carry on, well, just one more year'.
"So, now I believe I am ready for another year as a professional rider, and I am happy I can do it and finish it with Astana Qazaqstan Team. I love this team and even beyond the next year I’d like to do something more for this project. However, this is a question of the future."
Earlier this summer Cavendish was within touching distance of becoming the record holder for the most stage wins.
Cavendish proved he still has the speed to match the likes of Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen - who won four stages and the green points jersey. The Manxman came close to a win on stage seven, but took second behind Philipsen, later saying that he was "frustrated" following a late mechanical issue in the final metres.
Twenty-four hours later Cavendish was forced to abandon the race with a fractured collarbone after being involved in a heavy crash on the road to Limoges on stage eight.
In the aftermath of his withdrawal from the Tour, Astana boss Vinokourov told Cycling Weekly on the Puy de Dôme that he would be open to Cavendish continuing racing with the team in 2024.
“We’re leaving Mark to recover, and then we will see,” said Vinokourov, when asked about a possible contract extension.
“Maybe he’ll come to Paris and we will see. I am ready. Of course, it’s not easy to continue at a good level, but we saw today [9 July, stage nine to the Puy de Dôme] a rider like [Michael] Woods, 36, and he won. I think Mark can, too. We need to be stronger, but he didn’t dream to finish his career like this.”
Vinokourov echoed that same sentiment on Wednesday morning and hinted that Cavendish's relationship with Astana could well continue beyond next year.
"I believe that a true champion should not end his career this way," he said. So, I asked Mark if in a few years he would regret that he didn’t try again, and, in turn, suggested to reconsider his decision, to stay for another season, and still to try to win a stage in the Tour de France.
"I think Mark thought about it seriously; it's not easy to reconsider the decision already made, but in the end Mark agreed, and he will spend 2024 as a rider of Astana Qazaqstan Team. While this season Mark's arrival in the team was quite unexpected, then for the next year we are preparing thoroughly, seriously reviewing the squad, strengthening the sprint direction, making personnel changes.
"It won't be easy to better the record he shares with Eddie Merckx, it would be a historic achievement, but we have a chance, and we have to use it. As for the plans after 2024, certain discussions are underway, and the team is interested in continuing cooperation with Mark. But, of course, first of all our thoughts are about the upcoming season.”
Quick-Step coach set to come on board
Astana have been working around the clock to assemble a solid team of riders and coaching staff around the 38-year-old with the aim of going again next July.
As well as signing the likes of Davide Ballerini and Ide Schelling, Vinokourov’s team are reportedly set to bring in Michael Mørkøv from Quick-Step to further increase the strength of their leadout train.
Mørkøv recently told Ekstra Bladet that he will leave his current team at the end of the year. The Danish rider has since been heavily linked with a move to Astana.
Perhaps more importantly, however, Cycling Weekly revealed last week that Astana will also reunite Cavendish with his former coach, Vasilis Anastopoulos, who worked with the Manxman at Soudal Quick-Step.
The Greek ex-pro turned coach was instrumental in getting Cavendish back to winning ways in 2021, when he won four stages of the French Grand Tour.
Cavendish is expected to return to racing action at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Türkiye this weekend where he is likely to face Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Philipsen.
It's not over yet. @MarkCavendish pic.twitter.com/DMIdfi4uqQOctober 4, 2023
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