Is this the end for Cav?
Sport reacts as Manxman raises prospect he may not have a ride in 2021, writes James Shrubsall
Mark Cavendish’s emotional declaration that “that was perhaps my last race” after Ghent-wevelgem on Sunday sparked an outpouring of warmth towards a rider who has long been a national treasure for British bike racing fans. Many took to social media with messages of support for the Bahrain-mclaren rider, reflecting on how much he meant to them, and with hopes that he would be able to continue racing that were echoed by some of the sport’s biggest commentators.
“It was upsetting to see, first and foremost, nobody likes to see my grand champion in tears like that,” said former team manager and commentator Brian Smith. “This was a year that he wanted to get back to the top of cycling, and he hasn’t been able to do that. I think he was relying on some of these races at the back end of the season to show what he could do.”
Commentator Phil Liggett said he hoped Cavendish had been speaking in the moment and that he would find a way to continue: “I’m hoping it’s an emotion, which is natural. Because he’s struggled with his sicknesses and finding his form again. As I said in that little tweet, he’s a champion, and still is, he’s a terrific ambassador of our sport.” As things stand Cavendish, 35, will be out of contract at the end of the year. Over the past few seasons he has had a torrid time at the hands of the Epstein Barr virus, which first flared up in 2017 and continued to dog him in 2018. Last year he had hoped he had beaten it but was unable to refind the form he last enjoyed in 2016, when he won four stages of the Tour de France with Dimension Data. The financial complexities experienced by teams because of Covid-19 – plus an unpredictable race calendar – will only have exacerbated the situation.
Team boss Rod Ellingworth told Eurosport that discussions were ongoing and that the next few weeks would be critical for all riders out of contract – but he declined to comment any further on Cavendish’s situation at the team.
With the end of the season fast approaching and with races being cancelled or put in doubt due to the pandemic, Cavendish may have considered Ghentwevelgem his last good opportunity to secure the result that would convince Bahrain to keep him on.
“I think Mark was looking for a performance that would have showed them [at Ghentwevelgem],” said Smith, who was general manager at Dimension Data during part of Cavendish’s time there. And the Scotsman emphasised
how much more the ‘Manx Missile’ had to offer the sport – even if he was no longer the fastest rider in the world: “He’s quite prepared to muck in and get his hands dirty and help other people.
You know, it’s not just all about Mark Cavendish. I think there is another few years left for him – maybe not in the main sprinter’s role, but maybe as a kind of mentor within the team. Just to support some of the younger sprinters.”
It certainly feels like a rather sad way for a rider who is an all-time great to bow out – forced by circumstance and illness, and with little warning.
“He deserves a better send-off,” said Sir Bradley Wiggins on his podcast The Bradley
Wiggins Show. “Mark’s like my little brother. It’s not nice seeing him cry on telly like that.”
His words were echoed by Liggett: “He shouldn’t leave our sport in this manner because he’s a pretty special person. Winning 30 stages of the Tour... he’s been a world champion. There’s a better way out for him than this,” he told CW.
If he has to retire, Liggett said that he hoped Cavendish would stay in the sport, perhaps as a technical adviser. “I hope he would stay. When sprinter Robbie Mcewen retired, he stayed on at Greenedge to tell sprinters how to sprint in the big races, how to read the finishes and where to go. It’s not always instinct even to some of the fastest finishers in the world – they’ve got to be shown. Mark’s got that instinct.”
Smith, however, was less sure that Cavendish would remain in cycling. “I think he needs other challenges,” he said. “I think he’ll look for something else – maybe he’ll do something like Chris Hoy is doing, in motor racing – he may do something in motorbiking or something like that.”
At the time of going to press Cavendish was still down to ride Scheldeprijs. A good ride there would be neatly symmetrical for a rider whose first major result as a professional came in exactly that race.
“He shouldn’t leave our sport in this manner. He’s a very special person”
Was Cav’s day in the break at Ghent-wevelgem his last?