New Bahrain-McLaren team principal Rod Ellingworth says Mark Cavendish can return to his best in the upcoming 2020 season, but says the sprinter will ultimately be the one accountable for making it happen.
The 30-time Tour de France stage winner joined the Bahrain team from Dimension Data after several difficult seasons blighted by Epstein-Barr virus. He’ll now hope that his former British Cycling and Team Sky coach Ellingworth will be able to help him return to his winning ways and potentially beat Eddy Merckx’s record Tour stage win total of 34.
Ellingworth says Cavendish remains one of the most technically gifted sprinters in the world and just needs to get his first win to restore confidence in his ability. He added the Manxman can still win at the Tour even if the team enters with a team mainly geared to helping Mikel Landa’s general classification efforts.
“I do believe Mark is one of the very best at that positioning himself when he’s when he’s on good condition and good form and really motivated I think he’s probably one of the best in the world technically,” Ellingworth said.
“If you don’t go [to the Tour] with big numbers in terms of lead out I do think he’s a winner, even then. So it’s a challenge but it’s good challenge to have.
“I presume he still has the ambition of trying to be Eddy Merckx’s record. I say I don’t know – I know it’s there. But it’s not something that we’re talking about regularly. I think what we are talking about is just winning and I think that’s the marker. How do we get back to winning a bike race?
“I think someone like him is about confidence. It’s about building on that confidence and about building the team’s confidence. So I think the focus has got to be on just winning a bike race full stop.”
The 34-year-old has not had much downtime this winter after a stop start season, training hard alongside racing on the track at the London and Ghent Six Days. Ellingworth says there hasn’t been a major overhaul of Cavendish’s training since signing for the squad, rather they’re looking to keep things simple ahead of the next year.
“I’ve always tried to say to just keep it really simple,” Ellingworth explained.
“The thing is with him, you know, he’s physically really talented. He’s not particularly old, he’s just experienced but you do have to factor in. And of course, as people get older, they potentially get a bit slower. So you have to work it more, you can’t lose sight of that, but so we’ve not changed anything dramatically.
“What we have changed has given him a plan, what we have done is given him a vision of that plan, and really make him feel part of it, but accountable. He’s really accountable for every step of the way, and if he steps out of line, I’ll hold him to account on it.”
There were no bold statements from Cavendish at the launch of the Bahrain-McLaren team in Woking, UK on Monday, remaining coy about his 2020 ambitions but excited about the prospect of working with a new team backed by the British motor racing brand.
“These people are good at what they do,” Cavendish told the media. “I’m fortunate I’ve worked with these guys and they are some of the hardest working and most brilliantly-minded people in cycling. I’m excited and full of confidence.
“It’s still not January yet, and it’s about getting through the winter, properly, and then try to take every day that comes. And that’s been kind of the way I’ve been since I was coming back from illness. I’ve got a solid year behind me now that we’ve been able to get get fit, and so on the race programme I think we’re really going to stay like that for next year.”