An emotional Cavendish told Sporza that he may have ridden his final race at the conclusion of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, having been in the day’s early break before the Classics favourites eventually decided the race.
Cavendish, 35, had been scheduled to race Scheldeprijs this Wednesday, but at the end of Gent-Wevelgem he told Sporza: "That’s perhaps the last race of my career now.”
Wiggins quickly came to Cavendish's aid, standing up for the sprinter's phenomenal record over the last two decades that includes 30 Tour de France stages, Milan-San Remo, a rainbow jersey on the road, and the green jersey at the Tour.
"I think we all found it very tough to watch," Wiggins said during his Eurosport podcast as he discussed Cavendish’s brief but telling post-race interview on Sunday.
"It’s not the exit from the sport for a man who’s achieved what he’s achieved, it’s not the exit we all want to see. We want to see him go out on a high. No one really expected it either, he never stated this was going to be his last year. It almost feels like the decision had been taken away from him and it’s become more of someone else’s decision rather than Mark saying this is where I will stop."
Cavendish is in the final year of his one-year deal with Bahrain McLaren and although team boss Rod Ellingworth had told the media at the Giro d’Italia on Saturday that negotiations over a new deal were ongoing, and that Cavendish was likely to remain racing next season, the rider's comments at Gent-Wevelgem have thrown the situation in doubt.
"There's so much happening with teams folding and so on, so we're keeping everything open at the moment. But I'm sure he's going to stay racing, yeah,” Ellingworth said.
Cavendish and Wiggins rode together on the track and achieved huge successes together. They both rode for High Road in 2008 but linked up again on the road at Team Sky in 2012 with Wiggins winning the Tour de France and Cavendish chipping in with three sprint stage wins. Wiggins famously led Cavendish out on the Champs Elysées while wearing the yellow jersey.
"It’s hard because you always have a romantic vision of where you want to stop but, knowing Mark, I just want to see him, not necessarily with a win, but just a celebration of his career and I don’t want to see him crying at the end of the race being forced out," Wiggins said.
However, Cavendish has struggled for results for several seasons, first with Epstein-Barr virus in 2017, and then in an underperforming Dimension Data team. He was controversially omitted from the Tour de France last year but backed Bahrain McLaren this season as they committed themselves to Mikel Landa.
Bahrain McLaren are looking for a second sponsor after it was confirmed that McLaren would step back after just one season in the WorldTour. The team have been quiet in the transfer market, having signed Jack Haig and resigned just a few riders at this point. However, Wiggins believes that his friend and former teammate should be provided with a new deal, even if Cavendish is not the force he once was.
"For me it should be a given, there’s a contract here for as long as you want it," Wiggins said.
"I understand it doesn’t always work like that but he’ll go down as one of our greatest ever cyclists and he will get the credit once he’s gone and he’ll realise what he has achieved and the stature he has in this sport. It was very difficult to watch.
"He knows that day is going to come and he’s got a great family to retire to and whatever lies next for him. But he loves cycling and if he could race for another 10 years he would. But as we all know as cyclists the day comes when we can’t do what we did 10 years before. He’s realising that, he’s not deluded in any sense that that isn’t happening but there’s got to be a place for him somewhere. His presence is not to be underestimated."
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