Mark Cavendish continued his return to form at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, finishing third in the sprint behind winner Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) and his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Sam Bennett.
Cavendish, Bennett and several of their teammates were part of a select group that emerged after early echelons and attacks during the race.
The group stayed away and Deceuninck-QuickStep lead out the sprint, with Cavendish protecting Bennett’s wheel in a sweeper role while Michael Mørkøv lead them out. However the Alpecin-Fenix team came up late to set up Philipsen and he jumped before Bennett, gaining a vital position and advantage in the sprint.
Cavendish has won Scheldeprijs three times during his long, successful career, recalling his victories with affection on social media on Tuesday night. He was disappointed the team did not win again but managed to find some satisfaction from being back on the podium after being close to retirement last October.
Cavendish claimed his sixth podium in the race, which put him on par with Ernest Sterckx, who until Wednesday was the rider with the most top 3 finishes in Flanders’ oldest race.
“Very happy, I don’t know…. A win for the team would be a bit more ideal but just being here at Scheldeprijs, with Deceuninck-QuickStep, makes me happy enough,” he said.
Cavendish explained his sweeper role on Bennett’s wheel but acknowledged that Deceuninck-QuickStep didn’t quite have enough riders to do a full lead out. With a tailwind helping those coming from behind and on the right, Alpecin-Fenix and Philipsen were able to match and anticipate them.
“We had five guys and especially with me sweeping Sam, we had three guys in front. That’s not enough guys to lead out but you have the guys to take control,” Cavendish explained.
“We had to leave it a little bit late and then when we went, we probably ran out of guys a little bit early. Michael had to back off and other guys came on the right because it was kind of cross/tailwind.
“As we were going, Sam kind of went to go on the left, but it closed and Philipsen came from the right. I was watching it from behind and had to back off to let Sam get out of there.
“I think he’s got the strongest legs of any sprinter at the minute, he was our best shot. So I backed off to let him out. But he couldn’t work out his sprint.”
Cavendish has gradually returned to form during the spring despite not riding a major WorldTour race programme with Deceuninck-QuickStep.
He was second at the Grote Prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré in early March, second in the opening stage of the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali in Italy, and then wore the race leader’s jersey for a day after Deceuninck-QuickStep finished third in the team time trial.
He is no longer happy with just finishing races and podium places.
“It’s disappointing, we wanted to win. Patrick (Lefevere) expects us to win,” he concluded.
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