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'I'm a realist': Mark Cavendish under no illusion about his future in cycling

The Guardian - Wed Jan 13 16:49

A downbeat Mark Cavendish has acknowledged he will not return to his previous level as a sprinter and even conceded his winter transfer to the Deceuninck-Quickstep team makes that less likely due to the level of competition within the squad. Speaking for the first time since his return to the Belgian team, Cavendish said that 2021 will not be “about trying to win what I won previously. I’m a realist.”

“If I thought I wanted to go and race and win six stages of the Tour de France again I’m in fairytale land, and it makes it even less likely when you come to the strongest team in the world, the way they dominate,” said Cavendish, who has won 30 Tour de France stages in his career, the last in 2016. “I’m not looking to hang on to something or try to finish my career in any fairytale way. I just know that I’m still good. Even if I’m not winning, I can still add something to this team.”

In 2020, riding for Bahrain-Maclaren, Cavendish did not come close to a win, which prompted him to joke, when asked on Wednesday about the current generation of sprinters led by his new teammate Sam Bennett, that he did “not have a clue because in the last year I haven’t been near them”.

Cavendish will be 36 this year, and has struggled to return to his best form since being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus in 2018, but he would not be drawn on when his career might end, although after finishing the Ghent-Wevelgem classic last year he speculated that retirement might only be weeks away.

“Look how many comebacks I’ve done in my career. Why not join [the team] regardless of whether I think it’s my last year or 10 years? I was at my happiest here [at Deceuninck-Quickstep] so the opportunity is a dream whether I do one month more or 10 years.”

With his status at Deceuninck uncertain partly due to his form and also due to the strength of the squad, Cavendish would be unsure about his goals in any season, but with early races being cancelled already, his race programme has yet to take shape.

“Like many riders, I just hope the world gets back to normality. I don’t know my programme yet, I haven’t thought about it. I’m just glad to be back here. The Belgians have cycling in their blood and I can relate to that.”