Cavendish has taken 11 individual wins in 2014 but due to a crash on the opening day of the Tour de France he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his sprint rivals cleaned up. For the first time since 2007, he has completed a season without finishing a Grand Tour or winning a stage.
“When I think about his season it gives me mixed feelings. He’s had 11 victories so you can't say it’s been bad but he had bad luck in the Tour de France. He was also sick but at the start of the year but was winning the last stage in Tirreno and performed well in San Remo,” Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
Cavendish centred his season around the Tour de France with the grand départ in the United Kingdom for the first time since 2007. With a potential yellow jersey and a sprint finish on stage one up for grabs, he staked his programme on the first stage to Harrogate. However a crash on the line took him out of the race and the rehabilitation period meant that the second half of the season was about recovery and returning to form for 2015.
“He came back after the operation but worked for others and lost the last stage at Tour of Britain, but before the Tour and before that crash we were convinced that he could win three or four stages. The crash changed everything,” added Lefevere.
While Cavendish recovered, Marcel Kittel and a number of other sprint rivals vied for wins, titles and green jerseys. With almost Pavlovian timing, each win for Kittel and Co. was followed by the question over who was the fastest sprinter in the world. Cavendish has had the title bestowed upon him for much of his career but Lefevere sidestepped any debate, instead choosing to take a more pragmatic, modest stance.
“Of course there’s competition but I think he can still be a winner. Before, when he was younger there was maybe less competitors but now you have Kittel and others, but Mark, he still has the speed. This year he was never able to have the right condition due to circumstances with injures, crashes and illness.
“I won’t say to you now that he’s going to win every sprint against Kittel but I still think he can beat him.”
First on Cavendish’s targets could be Milan-San Remo. He won the race in 2009, the first year it climbed Le Manie, but struggled in subsequent years as teams adapted their strategies to the altered route. Next year could see the race return to a more ‘traditional’ route with less climbing, however the full parcours has yet to be confirmed.
“If the organisers of San Remo use their brains and don’t put in a new climb he can win. I saw his sprint in Tour de Suisse this year and that convinced me he was unbeatable for the Tour but then he crashed," said Lefevere.
Kwiatkowski can handle the pressure
As Cavendish draws up blueprints for his assault on 2015, Lefevere can still afford to revel in the glow of Michal Kwiatkowski’s new rainbow jersey. The Polish rider soared to the world title in Ponferrada last weekend, and like Cavendish he will gather with the rest of the QuickStep team on October 16 to map out their targets for 2015.
For Kwiatkowski the biggest challenge may lie in how he prioritises his objectives. A rider without a niche, who can climb and time trial, and has tasted success in one-day races and grand tours alike, Lefevere is confident he can deal with the pressure of the jersey he will wear.
“It won't be easy but don’t forget that he’s been a winner since he was been young. Winning, you don’t learn. It’s an instinct and you either have it or you don’t,” Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
“He’s able to win every Classic between Milan San Remo and Lombardy. Maybe he’s not quite ready for Roubaix but he can win all of them. He can win a lot of stage races but maybe it’s a bit too soon to talk about the grand tours because he still needs more time to develop.
“I don’t know about priorities for next year. We meet later this month but it’s possible that he makes a good start because he loves racing, he loves winning. He’s like a horse in the stable, you just have to let him out and he’ll try and win. For sure he will do a big tour but we’ve not decided on which one.”