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Cavendish draws a line under 'year to forget'

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Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) after the 2017 Saitama Criterium.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) after the 2017 Saitama Criterium. (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish celebrates victory ahead of Fumiyuku Beppu in the Saitama Criterium.

Mark Cavendish celebrates victory ahead of Fumiyuku Beppu in the Saitama Criterium. (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish brings the curtain down on 2017 with a win in Saitama.

Mark Cavendish brings the curtain down on 2017 with a win in Saitama. (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish is greeted by fans at the Saitama Criterium.

Mark Cavendish is greeted by fans at the Saitama Criterium. (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data teammates

Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data teammates (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

Mark Cavendish has described the 2017 season as the toughest of his career, and he was able to draw a line under it in Japan on Saturday with victory in the Saitama Criterium.

The Manxman's victory counts for little in the grand scheme of things, given the Saitama Criterium is an entertainment event rather than a categorised professional race, but while it doesn't put a gloss on a campaign that has yielded just one win, it allowed him to end the year on a positive note.

Cavendish's season, of course, has been derailed by forces beyond his control. Epstein Barr Virus held him back in the early part of the season and then forced him into a long spell on the sidelines, and then, having managed to return in time for the Tour de France, his season was as good as over when he fractured his shoulderblade in a collision with Peter Sagan on stage 4.

After coming back again to race in the service of teammates late in the season, Cavendish finished his campaign by claiming a podium place at a packed edition of the London Six Day – the event he has helped promote – before a brief but enjoyable trip to Japan.

"I'm happy finishing my season at Saitama," Cavendish told Cyclingnews. "It's been a great time in Japan, people are friendly here and I'm really happy I came.

"It [the Six Day] was nice. It was a full crowd most nights, so yeah, it was good. It was nice riding with Pete [Kennaugh], seeing how he learned throughout the week, and actually I was surprised to get a podium – really surprised – amongst all that at the beginning of the week. It was really nice."

Cavendish will head to South Africa next week for the Dimension Data team's first off-season training camp. It will be a chance to consign the 2017 campaign to the past and start thinking about the year to come.

"I had a lot of bad luck this year," he said the previous day. "This year I try to forget, but it gives me motivation to come back stronger. If you are already eleven years on the top, you know that there could be a bad year too."

Cavendish sits second in the all-time standings of Tour de France stage wins, with 30, and July will once again be the pinnacle of his season in 2018. He refused to start seriously entertain thoughts of Eddy Merckx's record of 34, but did suggest he might look elsewhere from the traditional bunch finishes.

"I need to win four. The Tour is the hardest race in the world – nobody in the world who has more respect for the Tour than I do. It's very difficult to win one stage, so thinking about winning four stages this year is not even in my mind.

"Maybe the cobbled stage in the Tour is something I would like to do try," he added, explaining that could well return to the classics next spring. "I really would like to do the classics and Roubaix again next year. I have the opportunity with Dimension Data. I did it two years ago. For a good result it's difficult, but it was nice."

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.