Is Mark Cavendish REALLY back?
Tour of Turkey triumphs completed a special comeback but can Manx Missile still win big in 2021?
Words: Toby Miles (@toby_milesTM)
Mark Cavendish is back – that’s the gleeful opinion being shouted above the rest after Stage 3 of the Tour of Turkey. Those claims are correct, but only in part.
It’s been a long time since we last saw the Manx Missile launch. There was much ‘Cav is back’ talk after second-places at the GP Monsere and Coppi e Bartali, and third at Scheldeprijs. Those claims were all, significantly, jumping the gun.
Cavendish hadn’t really ‘kicked’ all season. At Monsere, he stayed on the rivet to pass Timothy Dupont and roll in well behind Tim Merlier after a lousy Deceuninck-Quick-Step lead-out. In Belgium there was no jump either, being dragged to the podium by Sam Bennett’s slipstream. In fact, his jump has been all-but missing since 2017.
Clearly he is in phenomenal shape though. The 35-year-old’s doubters were brazenly writing him off again and with their words at the fore-front of his mind, Cavendish’s 2021 preparations were never going to be half-arsed. He’s flying.
The key question: Does he still have that kick? The searing acceleration nobody could match in his unstoppable prime. Those 30 Tour de France stages, that World Championship, the greatest sprinter of all time.
By Stage 3 in Turkey, Cavendish has already provided some answers. Can he win again? You bet.
It’s Greipel against Philipsen, against Cavendish in the sprints. A veteran whose monstrous power has long-since deserted vs an inexperienced youngster, vs a wily racer desperate for a last hurrah.
On Stage 2 the Manxman was spotless. Clocking his old rival was beginning to plummet after Philipsen’s kick, he launched onto the German’s hip just as the bend eased, smartly ducking to the Alpecin-Fenix sprinter’s left to maximise the draft and flying to the line.
The monumental release of built-up frustration gave Cav’s single-fisted celebration an extra edge that afternoon. Meanwhile, it was being replicated on sofa’s all across the world. Albeit on a smaller stage, Cavendish wrote yet another special chapter in his iconic career.
Stage 3 was vintage Cavendish – for whom confidence and the feel-good factor are so crucial. Could we have expected anything other than back-to-back victories?
The Manx sprinter’s experience is unbeatable, and it won the day. At 4km-to-go Cavendish was being piloted by Alvaro Hodeg, and the 24-year-old was riding into trouble.
Bumping and barging, the Colombian quickly began losing his battle for Griepel’s wheel, sandwiched between Uno-X lead-out man Soren Waerenskjold and Philipsen.
Spotting the danger, Cavendish had already switched to Philipsen’s slipstream by the time Hodeg had been muscled-out. The Missile has always been exceptional at knowing when to abandon his pilot – from Renshaw to Pettachi, Boasson-Hagen to Eisel.
Then, for the first time in what feels like an eternity, Cavendish kicked first – reacting to Rick Zabel’s peel-off quicker than Floyd Mayweather dodges punches.
Truthfully, Philipsen made the winning, or rather losing, move. The young Belgian proved his lightning speed by holding-off Bennett at Scheldeprijs and a big future lies ahead for the 23-year-old, but his inexperience was clear to see when he followed a floundering Griepel.
After a perfect lead-out the German’s sprint was so lethargic, it should cause Israel Start-Up Nation to finally give up on the legendary 38-year-old ever rolling back the years. As Philipsen stalled behind the Griepel roadblock, Cavendish soared to the win.
Now for that key question about Cav’s kick. The brutal answer is, no.
That ferocious jump – which he could even unleash twice in one finish-straight on occasion – is a thing of the past. Fast-twitch fibres don’t stick around forever and Cavendish’s ageing process was dramatically accelerated by the Epstein-Barr virus. We were robbed of some truly fascinating battles with the new generation.
That new crop is just too fresh and too quick. Sam Bennett is the fastest man on two wheels these days, with Wout van Aert, Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen all ready to pounce if the Irishman slips-up.
Can Mark Cavendish keep winning in 2021? Yes. He’s surfing through the run-ins like a jedi, his swagger is back, he’s in phenomenal shape and showed in Turkey that while the kick has faded – there’s still plenty of punch left.
Now, can Cav win big one more time? That I can’t call, but there won’t be a dry eye in the house if he does.