A hugely emotional Mark Cavendish thanked Patrick Lefevere, team principal at Deceuninck-Quick Step, for continuing to believe in him when others did not after claiming his first victory in over three years on Monday.
The British rider, 35, won stage two of the Tour of Turkey from a bunch sprint to assume the overall lead of the race.
Cavendish has suffered a series of setbacks since his last big year in 2016 when he won the world Madison title, four stages of the Tour de France and a day in the leader’s yellow jersey, Olympic omnium silver and finished second at the road world championships. He lost the best part of two seasons to Epstein-Barr virus, broke his shoulder after crashing out of the Tour de France in 2017 and also suffered with depression, something he revealed in an interview with Telegraph Sport last year.
It looked last autumn as if he might have run out of road. In a tearful interview after Ghent-Wevelgem Cavendish admitted he did not know whether he would race again, with his contract at Bahrain-McLaren coming to an end and coronavirus wreaking havoc with the season.
However, the 30-time Tour de France stage winner agreed a contract with his old Belgian team, Deceuninck-Quick Step, where he spent three very successful seasons between 2013 and 2015.
And he has been getting closer and closer to his first win since the Dubai Tour in 2018. The 35 year-old finished on the podium at Scheldeprijs last week.
He timed his run to perfection on Monday, surging from fifth wheel to pass André Greipel (Israel Start-up Nation) and then Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) on the line.
Afterwards Cavendish paid tribute to Lefevere. “Some people didn’t think I could get back to winning, but he did and for that I am grateful,” he said. “Just to get back to winning after what I’ve been through in the last couple of years is truly incredible. To win again was emotional and to hug all my teammates after the finish was amazing.”
Analysis: Next stop Tour de France for Cavendish?
By Tom Cary
Cavendish’s first win in over three years was greeted with huge enthusiasm throughout cycling, a sport which reveres its great champions. The Manx rider, second only to Eddy Merckx in terms of Tour de France stage wins and a former world road champion, is one of the greatest sprinters in history and no one wanted to see his career end before he got back to winning ways.
Of course there will be questions now as to what Cavendish 2.0 might be capable of. Could he grow in confidence and become a force in cycling again? Could he — whisper it — add to his 30 Tour stage wins?
It is far too soon to speculate about such matters. The Tour of Turkey is one thing, the Tour de France another. Cavendish needs to to win a lot more races, and against the best sprinters in the world, before Deceuninck-Quick Step would even contemplate taking him. They already have the top sprinter in the world in Ireland’s Sam Bennett on their roster (it will be interesting to see whether Deceuninck-Quick Step choose to keep them apart in the coming weeks). Plus Cavendish will be 36 next month. Time is very much against him.
But the manner in which he won on Monday was encouraging, showing great timing and a good jump as he surged past Greipel to take Philipsen’s wheel, before powering into the lead right on the line.
If he never wins another race, Cavendish can be proud that he fought back from so much adversity to return to the winners’ enclosure. Whatever happens from here, he has already won his biggest battle.