Mark Cavendish has said he doesn’t believe the Tour de France will happen this year amidst an uncertain future for the Manxman, who is well aware he only has a one-year contract with Bahrain-McLaren.
The sprinter held a Q&A session on Instagram live with former team-mate Bradley Wiggins where they touched on numerous topics including the current period of no racing as well as Cavendish’s future.
The 2020 season
Currently holed up on the Isle of Man, which has closed its border during the coronavirus pandemic, the 34-year-old has still been doing 20 hours a week on the bike, as well as gym workouts. He isn’t currently training towards anything as he doesn’t want to peak, and anyway, the winner of 30 stages doesn’t believe the French Grand Tour will be going ahead.
“I don’t think we’ll be racing it this year,” said Cavendish. “If there’s anything that goes on it has to be the Worlds and the Tour de France.”
If this season ends up in tatters Cavendish doesn’t know what the future holds for him, having only a one-year contract with Bahrain-McLaren but isn’t worried about that given the current circumstances. “There are a lot of people in a worse situation,” he said. “We live in a bubble in cycling”.
Relatively speaking compared with other members of the peloton, Cavendish feels like he’s actually in a good position.
“I was stuck indoors, training on the indoor trainer for two years with Epstein-Barr virus. So I’m in a good position. I was training indoors for two years feeling like s**t, so I’m alright now.
“Everyone’s in the same boat this time. It’s not like I’m at home with Epstein-Barr getting worse. This time everyone’s on the same level.”
Roger Hammond, now performance director at Bahrain-McLaren, had some advice for Cavendish and his team-mates to help them see the positive side of the lockdown and race cancellations, saying no professional cyclist has had a period where they’ve been able to live like a normal parent during their career. “I’m sometimes more tired than after a bike ride,” Cavendish says of adjusting to normal family life during what should be the regular season.
With more time to spend at home, riders will have the chance to take stock rather than the usual bouncing from race to race. With all this uncertainty surrounding his own future and what the sport will look like when racing resumes, Wiggins asks Cavendish if he has thought about his plans when he eventually retires.
“I don’t know, I have thought about it. I want to stay in the sport but I don’t know [what I’ll do]. I’d like to be home a bit. Imagine how fat I’ll be when I stop.”
So, how many more years does Cavendish think he’ll spend in the peloton?
“As long as I can, I haven’t thought [about a specific date]. Like, do you remember when people were saying I was finished in 2010. F**king hell.”
The past, present and future
With Wiggins acting as the interviewer, Cavendish is more relaxed than when faced with the usual press pack. “Has cycling changed since the start of your career? Is it more dangerous now?” Wiggins asks.
“It’s changed, it’s not even a sprint now is it. Do you remember the pace, you used to just build up the kilometres slowly then it goes to warp speed. Now, it’s just the same speed all day and it’s hard. It’s not as much of a race now it’s just the last man who can hang on wins.
“Yeah [it’s more dangerous], but that’s me getting old as well isn’t it. Like, when I’d cut someone up when I was younger I’d get donked on the head and that was good. But now it will all be over Twitter, you know what I mean? And then you’re done by public execution.”
Wiggins and Cavendish then spend some time reminiscing on a defining moment of their careers, when Wiggins in the yellow jersey led out then-world champion Mark Cavendish on the Champs-Élysées to secure the stage 21 win of the 2012 Tour. Does Cavendish regret leaving the Sky set-up?
“I don’t think you can regret anything. I’d say you know what you get at Sky. I was happy at Sky but it would have stunted any wins [going forward] for me. I also then had a wicked time at Quick-Step. In my career, there’s only one place I regret being at. It wasn’t too long ago Bradley, let’s just say that.”
Cavendish is also more candid with what he thinks of those who continue to discuss his 30 Tour de France stage wins.
“How stupid is it. Now I’m looked at having not won the last four to beat Eddy Merckx instead of having won 30,” Cavendish points out.
Discussing how he managed to come by those wins, Cavendish goes into detail as to what separated him from his sprinting rivals.
“I don’t have a high peak power, I never have. The highest peak power I ever had was in 2016 when we were doing all the track stuff, it was over 1600w then but it’s never been that high.
“But I can hold 1100w for 15 seconds and because I’m small I cut through the air. Greipel could hit 2000w but he peaks and drops.”
So, who was his definitive rival throughout his career?
“Without a shadow of a doubt Marcel Kittel. He’s the only one I had to think about how to beat him. Kittel was just power, just raw power.”
And of the new sprinters coming through and staking their claim as the pre-eminent fast man of the peloton?
“Maybe Caleb Ewan, the biggest improvement, someone who’s massively underrated, it’s Sam Bennett. He always lacked a bit of confidence but he’s got that and now has come on.”
Cavendish and Wiggins’ roles then reverse, who does Wiggins see as the strongest GC rider of the current active riders?
“I think Geraint Thomas is still the best, even with Froome coming back from injury. But I do think Froomey will come back and win another Tour. I think G could carry on as long as he wants to carry on at his level.”
With current racing opportunities limited and riders beginning to struggle for training motivation, Wiggins has one idea compatible with the current lockdown constraints.
“I thought for Geraint and guys like that, what a great time to do the hour record. What a bloody great opportunity to train for something and do it in a velodrome with two people.”