While Mark Cavendish has been winning again for a while his detractors have been keen to point out how he's been victorious at either sh*t, small races, or against weakened fields, which he did arguably face even at his comeback Tour de France, at least when Wout van Aert was on domestique duties.
His stage two victory at the 2022 UAE Tour, however, may be one of his most impressive since his return to Quick-Step, if only due to the stellar sprinting talent he was up against.
Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates). Really, the only two missing from the top table of fast men were Van Aert and Lotto-Soudal's Caleb Ewan.
While Cavendish's 2021 Tour silenced all critics, the hunger clearly remains as he faces a Fabio Jakobsen-sized obstacle to retain his spot in this summer's French Grand Tour squad. This win will be noted in the column titled 'pros' of whether to take Mark Cavendish to another Grand Boucle.
"Just happy, you know," was Cavendish's reaction to the victory. "More so than the win, I knew we could win here, but more so just how the team worked today. A third of the team here are first-year professionals, this is the first or second race in their careers and seeing how they rode today they were like seasoned professionals.
"That's after one day...talking about how we didn't get it right yesterday and nobody panicked today. Their job was to get me to the final as fresh as possible, they did that and fortunately, they did it so well I could go from between 300-250m into a headwind."
Cavendish explains that is usually too far for even his aero position, but that he'd been protected so well from the elements during the stage that he had enough to extinguish a red-hot Jasper Philipsen and thwart the Belgian's attempt at back-to-back stage wins.
"Usually that's too far going into a headwind but I was delivered so well that I knew I would have the energy to keep it until the line," he explained. "I was quite fortunate, I could feel Philipsen coming at me, we know he's in good form so I was happy I could hold him off and take the win."
"And how important was your experience today with all the other sprinter's teams in contention?" the interviewer then asked.
"Why?" Cavendish replied, taking the question the wrong way, perhaps hearing the insinuation that this was the best field he'd beaten in some time.
"It looked like you sprinted very smartly," the interviewer scrambled back.
"Yeah, thank you," Cavendish accepted. No watered-down Cav to be found here, not even in the desert.
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