Re-united at Dimension Data after a three-year hiatus, Mark Cavendish’s longstanding teammate Bernie Eisel says the Manxman is back to his best after winning the opening stage of the 2016 Tour de France and clinching the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
Eisel, 35, was a key part of Cavendish’s leadout on the fast, tailwind finish to Utah Beach, handing over to Mark Renshaw inside the final few hundred metres before Cavendish emerged to overhaul Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step).
After being hugged and lifted into the air by team DS Roger Hammond, the big Austrian, who rode with Cavendish for five years at T-Mobile and Highroad and a further season in 2012 at Sky, spoke to the press outside the team bus.
“He is definitely on fire now,” Eisel said. “He wasn’t great in the Tour of Croatia two weeks ago, but I saw him two days ago and he was a different Mark Cavendish, I knew he was back on form.
“It seems now like he’s back to his best. And it’s good to see.”
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage one highlights
The Dimension Data team bus was a sea of happy faces at the finish line as the African squad celebrated what Eisel said could be the biggest win in the team’s history.
“He’s a happy Mark Cavendish now, we’re all happy, it’s probably the biggest success for the team, and for him, winning the first stage and wearing yellow.
“It’s just something he always dreamed of and you can see that the pressure was on the last few years, especially this year where everyone said he was preparing for the Olympics and would not be ready for the Tour. It seems like he’s ready for both, it’s just a shame I’m guessing he’s going to lose it [the yellow jersey] tomorrow [on stage two].
“I mean, if he wins Olympic gold in a month he could probably stop his career and walk out and say “I’ve won everything.” Though he’s definitely going to stay a bit longer and keep making our lives a bit harder.”
Eisel also highlighted the significance of Cavendish’s win for the work of team partner Qhubeka, a South African charity aiming to empower people by providing bikes, which last season was a title sponsor of the team before the arrival of Dimension Data over the winter.
“For Qhubeka it could change millions of lives in Africa just with one single victory, so we’re probably going to celebrate that in the next three weeks.”