Marcel Kittel has welcomed the surprise news that Mark Cavendish has signed for one of his former teams, Deceuninck-QuickStep. The German believes that the transfer ‘closes the circle’ and provides his former sprint rival with the best place to eventually finish his career.
Cavendish was out of contract at the end of this year after a low-key season that saw him fail to take a single win in Bahrain-McLaren colours. Retirement looked like a genuine possibility when Bahrain-McLaren decided not to offer him a contract, but Patrick Lefevere’s squad stepped in with a transfer that reunites the Belgian team manager with a rider who won 44 races during his three-year stint on the team between 2013 and 2015.
Kittel replaced Cavendish at QuickStep at the start of the 2016 campaign, and the pair were sprint rivals on the bike but good friends away from racing, with a level of mutual respect for each other’s achievements underpinning their relationship.
Their battles in the Tour de France produced some of the most memorable sprint contests of all-time, with Cavendish winning four stages to Kittel’s one in 2016, but the German dominating at the Tour in 2013, 2014 and 2017.
Kittel would go onto retire midway through the 2019 season after 18 months at Katusha-Alpecin, while Cavendish has battled back from Epstein Barr Virus, which had dogged his career for two seasons.
Although now 35 years of age, Cavendish has maintained a willingness to continue his career, even when his options looked limited, and a return to Deceuninck-QuickStep appears to suit both team and rider.
“I think it's great for Cav to return to QuickStep and to close a circle by rejoining the Wolfpack,” Kittel told Cyclingnews shortly after the announcement was made.
“I know from my own experience that it is a great and very special team and they've got a lot of history together. I'm happy for him that this opportunity was there, and he'll be a big support for the new season. I also believe that this is a great place for Cav to finish his career once he has decided to do that. I wish him and the team all the best.”
There are obvious questions as to whether Cavendish can return to the sort of form that saw him pick up an incredible 30 Tour de France stage victories during his career. He has not won an individual race on the road since claiming a stage in the 2018 Dubai Tour, and his reunion with Rod Ellingworth, even though disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, never turned into the fairytale comeback that both men were hoping for.
Lefevere’s team, however, provides Cavendish with a multitude of possible roles. With Sam Bennett on board, they already have one of the top two sprinters in the world, but with Fabio Jakobsen still recovering from his horrific crash at the Tour de Pologne, there might be a sprint role for Cavendish.
Deceuninck-QuickStep have proven over the years that they can build lead-outs for several sprinters at once, but if Cavendish becomes more of a road captain or voice of experience for the younger riders on the team, it could also work in his and Lefevere’s favour.
For Kittel, the experience angle could be vital – not just for the sprinters and lead-out riders, but even for the one-day and Grand Tour riders, like Julian Alaphilippe.
“I believe in Cav's case ‘adding experience’ is not only a phrase but it will be really a huge help for the team leaders. Cav won the green jersey and was world champion. That experience is very rare and something that he can share with Julian and Sam,” Kittel said. “Especially when they will have to defend their jerseys next season. I think that this will be a very valuable asset for the Wolfpack.”
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