Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere has told Cyclingnews that once he was confident Sam Bennett's knee had healed sufficiently, there was no chance of bringing Mark Cavendish to the Tour de France and that selecting both sprinters was never likely as it could have affected Bennett's confidence.
Bennett was replaced by Cavendish in the Baloise Belgium Tour earlier this month due to his injury and the Manxman went on to win the final stage against many of the sprinters already destined for the Tour’s Grand Départ on June 26.
That victory refuelled the debate surrounding a possible call-up for Cavendish, whose form has been rising over the last few months. The veteran sprinter has been locked on 30 Tour stage wins since 2016 but, with his best legs in years, he was at least back in contention for a Tour spot.
However, Lefevere opted to back Bennett and instructed Brian Holm to call Cavendish and inform him of the Tour selection, which is set to be announced publicly this week.
"The deal was that Bennett should go and if he's ok, like he's said he's ok, then we wouldn’t go with two sprinters. From what I understand from his DS, his knee is better and today he’s doing another long training session but normally he should be okay," Lefevere told Cyclingnews from his office on Friday.
While there is certainly no tension or ill-feeling between Bennett and Cavendish – and both riders have mutual respect for each other – Lefevere felt that last year’s green jersey winner needed to arrive at the Tour without any distractions or complications. He argued that while Cavendish would have dutifully ridden in the role that was asked of him, his presence and aura would have potentially created an element of doubt in Bennett’s mind.
"If you bring Mark then you saw what happened in Scheldeprijs [ed - the team missed out on victory, with Bennett finishing second and Cavendish third]," Lefevere said.
"Sam isn’t the strongest in his own head. If everything goes well then he becomes stronger and stronger, as we saw in the Tour last year, but if he has doubts and we bring someone like the second sprinter, and he has Mark Cavendish on his wheel, he becomes nervous about this. Very nervous.
"We want to be counting on Sam 200 per cent, honest and fair, even though he leaves the team. There are some teams that if you don’t re-sign they won't bring you to the Tour but I never get involved in that sort of case."
With Fabio Jakobsen destined to race the Vuelta a España later this year, it looks, for now at least, that Cavendish will miss out on a Grand Tour this year. That said, the 36-year-old has not hidden his desire to race next year and Lefevere remains open to the idea of extending his rider’s current contract beyond 2021.
"There are no races for him at the moment. During the Tour de France, he has no other races. The Tour of Austria has been cancelled, so the first races are at the end of July and the beginning of August. We have to look and have a small meeting with the team but when I spoke to Mark last we talked about the fact that there are no flat races. If you look at the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse there are no sprints anymore – a sprint with 30 riders isn’t a bunch sprint. It’s a pity for guys like Mark and Fabio.
"The Vuelta, though, is in Fabio's programme. He does the nationals and then he trains with the team and then it’s the Vuelta. Honestly, there’s not been a discussion yet about Mark and the Vuelta. He went to the Tour of Belgium and it was fantastic that he won but we’ve not talked about the Vuelta."
The Belgian team boss also has sympathy with the pure sprinter when it comes to the racing calendar and an ever-dwindling number of chances, and acknowledged that everyone on the team had enjoyed racing and working with the 36-year-old since his return to the team at the start of the season.
"For Mark, I just hope that he can race. Every rider wants to race but we took him last minute and lots of races like Tour Down Under, Argentina, and many more were cancelled. Finally, he could do the Tour of Turkey where he won four stages but he’s been unlucky with the race cancellations.
"Mark is in really good shape but he’s gone through a long process. For two years he almost wasn’t a rider anymore and then he had the opportunity to come with us. The parcours haven’t been great for him in many races this season.
"At the beginning, he wanted one year and he didn’t want to finish as he did in 2020. He has a lot of confidence after his win in Belgium and he’s like a kid again on the bike. He’s always smiling and even when it goes badly the real Mark Cavendish comes back and talks about his next goal. Everyone in the team loves him."