Can Mark Cavendish return to win at the Tour de France?

And can he still beat Merckx’s record stage tally? Vern Pitt asks around...

Mark Cavendish’s fall out of the Tour de France after missing the time cut has reignited questions over whether he will be able to return to winning form.

Cavendish rode into La Rosière on stage 11 over an hour behind winner Geraint Thomas, and more than half an hour outside the time cut.

>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<

>>> Mark Cavendish explains how ‘selfless and loyal’ Geraint Thomas tried to help him win a stage at the 2018 Tour de France

Privately, there are those in the Tour paddock who say Cavendish won’t win another Tour stage, even suggesting he should focus on the track ahead of a bid to win gold in the Madison at Tokyo 2020.

Certainly Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stages is now significantly more difficult to beat as the Manxman is stuck on 30 for another year. That’s valuable time lost. Cavendish was 31 the last time he won at the Tour, he’ll be 34 before he gets another chance. Merckx was 30 when he won his last stage.

When CW asked Rick Zabel (Katusha-Alpecin) if he’d bet on Cavendish getting to 34 said: “No. But I hope it. It’s always a balance between passion and realism.”

He added: “From the bottom of my heart, I hope he’ll at least win one more stage in the Tour. I’d be happy to see this.”

However, Cavendish is used to people writing him off. As a young man at the British Cycling academy his numbers weren’t thought to be anything special; it was coach Rod Ellingworth who saw his potential. And following a DNF in 2014 and a lone stage win in 2015 Cavendish bounced back to prove doubters wrong with four stage wins in 2016.

Good friend and Quick-Step Floors directeur sportif Brian Holm said Cavendish showed he was “strong in the head” by finishing the second mountain stage in the Alps.

He added: “I’ve heard him being written off for 10 years and I expect to hear the same things being said about him for the next five. I’m sure it will be business as usual soon.”

Ellingworth, who saw that potential years ago, is in no doubt he can win at the Tour again. “100 per cent. Definitely,” he responded when CW asked.

“I don’t have any doubt at all. He’ll go away from this and think about what he’s done. With Mark it’s quite simple: he has to race a lot; last year he missed the Tour as well as a lot of other racing — it all adds up.”

His team DS Roger Hammond is of a similar mindset. When we asked if Cavendish will win at the Tour again he didn’t hesitate: “Of course.”

He added: “With any other rider you wouldn’t have even thought of him coming back to the Tour [after his season]. It’s only because it was Cav we thought he’s got the ability to turn it around because he’s that level.”

To get back to winning form, everyone CW spoke to agreed that stringing some races together was the key. Charly Wegelius, EF Education First-Drapac directeur sportif, added that at Cavendish’s age of 33 all riders just took a bit longer to get in shape.

“The tick-over rate of the engine gets lower, it takes time to get into form and that spills over into getting over mishaps,” he said.

Tour of Britain

In the short term, Cavendish and Dimension Data will need to decide what races to do for the rest of the season. Team manager Doug Ryder said: “We reset and go through the Tour and then look at the goals and what we want to achieve. We’re going to the Vuelta a España with a big focus on Louis Meintjes.

Mark Cavendish looked back to his best with four sage wins at the 2016 Tour de France (Sunada)

“I’m not 100 per cent sure [if Cavendish will go], we have to have a conversation and see. Mark loves to go to the Tour of Britain so maybe he will go there.”

The Tour result will not do Cavendish any favours when it comes to landing a new deal. He is out of contract at the end of this season, as are important components of his lead-out train Mark Renshaw, Bernie Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Ryder said the Tour result did not affect his view on the negotiations. “I think we’ve had open conversations with Mark and he needs to decide where he wants to be and what he wants to do,” he said.

This article originally appeared in Cycling Weekly magazine, July 26 issue