'We can make it work' - Cees Bol on the 'unique goal' of getting Mark Cavendish to 35 Tour de France wins

The Dutch sprinter will mix leadout duties with aiming for his own results at Astana-Qazaqstan

Cees Bol 2023
(Image credit: Astana)

Cees Bol looks unfamiliar in the light blue of Astana-Qazaqstan, standing in the baking sun ahead of stage one of the Saudi Tour.

The 27-year-old spent five years with DSM, which saw him win six races, including a stage of Paris-Nice in 2021 and one at the Tour of Britain last September. 

However, the new year brings revolution for the Dutchman, as he left the comfort of his own team for the new pastures of Astana. It was a deal that happened late in the 2022, as he came as a package deal along with Mark Cavendish, two riders who were left without a team after the B&B Hotels project collpased.

Bol is under no illusions about why Astana signed him; he is to be the leadout man for Cavendish at races throughout the year, but most pertinently the Tour de France, where his British teammate will be going for a record 35th stage win,  the one victory on the biggest stage he needs to put clear air between him and Eddy Merckx, whom he shares the record with. No pressure.

"I think it's one of the most unique goals in cycling, to try and break a record like that," he said on Monday. "Of course, that's the big goal, but it's also super exciting just to race with Cav and trying to go for any win in any race.

"I don't know if Mark chose me, in the end Vino [Alexandr Vinokourov, Astana's general manager] chose me, but I think we can be a good match in races, I'm quite tall, so he'll have some slipstream to follow."

That is certainly the first thing one notices about Bol, his height; his 1.94m frame makes him stand out in the peloton. Cavendish and Astana will be hoping that he can guide them to the success they dream of.

First things first, however, the sprint pair need to get to familiarise themselves with each other, on and off the bike.

"We had a training camp in the last few weeks, but apart from that I've only met him a few times, apart from racing against him of course," Bol explained. "It has been good to see in the training camp how motivating he is for the whole team, and how he's working like a professional. We still have to get to know each other a bit more, but we have time for that."

Cavendish is not in Saudi Arabia, he is currently scheduled to be at the Tour of Oman in February. The pair are due to first race together at the UAE Tour. The Saudi Tour, then, is a dry run, a dress rehearsal, for that meeting, a chance to practice without the star.

"It's something new [sprinting] for the team, but that's why it's super good why Cav brings 17 years of experience in pro cycling, and winning bunch sprints," Bol said. "It's about giving his experience to other riders. 

"It's not completely new, but this is the first race where we really try to work with the train."

Cess Boll wins stage 2 of the Tour of Britain 2022

(Image credit: Will Palmer/SWpix)

To that end, Bol will be sprinting for victory on the multiple flat stages in the Middle East this week, trying to work out what works and doesn't on a new team, with a new bike, with new colleagues. This is one of the races this year where he will have his own chance to win, and he is not concerned about the lack of bunch finish pedigree at Astana.

"I also like to sprint myself still, I have some opportunities for myself, but in the Tour de France and some other races I'll do leadout," he said. "We've seen sprints changing a little bit, it's not necessarily like the full train, it's more about positioning one or two guys. I think we can make it work, and it will be an exciting challenge."

It will not be the first time he has performed leadout duties; he rode in support of Max Walscheid in his Sunweb days, and last year helped Alberto Dainese and Sam Welsford at DSM. Having Cavendish in the team will help Astana too, Bol said.

"He's the rider with the most wins in the peloton, so he knows a thing or two about sprints. In training he knows what to do, and he gives confidence to the whole team."

The deal to bring Cavendish and Bol to Astana was completed late, and only announced in the last few weeks. It came after the B&B Hotels team failed to secure funding for 2023, something that left riders scrambling in November and December.

Bol, though, said that he was always confident of finding a spot at a team, and revealed that the Astana deal was completed before Christmas, even though it was not announced until January. It is still not clear what the hold up was.

"It was frustrating, but I always knew that I would find a good team in the end, so I wasn't really stressed about that," he said. "You want to know where your future is, and know who you will be working with in the next years. I was feeling like I hadn't started yet."

It helps that Bol and Cavendish have the same agent, through SEG, but Astana and Cavendish clearly see something in the Dutchman that they hope will get them to that goal: the 35th stage win. 

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.