Deceuninck-QuickStep may have celebrated 100 Grand Tour stage wins before Tuesday's stage 4 at the Tour de France, but team boss Patrick Lefevere said that Mark Cavendish's sprint triumph in Fougères was the most emotional of all.
Speaking after the finish, which saw the Manxman beat Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to the line to take his first Tour stage in five years, the veteran boss said that it's the first time he's seen his entire team in tears after a win.
"We have more than 100 wins in a Grand Tour, but I never saw the whole staff crying," Lefevere said. "I think the whole staff was crying because everybody went on his emotions.
"Cavendish spoke already about it from day one, that he won here in 2015," Lefevere told Cyclingnews. "He was motivated like a kid doing his first race. He had a lot to lose and nothing to win but I said 'No, that's not true – you are an underdog, and the others have to win. You came to the Tour de France and you can make it'."
Cavendish himself was understandably the most emotional of all, having battled depression and Epstein-Barr virus in the past three years before reaching the top of the sprinting world again on Tuesday.
Having struck a deal with Deceuninck-QuickStep last December, he still had to battle adversity to make the Tour, Lefevere said.
"Eight months ago, Cavendish had no team. I took him in the team. He had a shit programme – all the races at the beginning of the season were cancelled.
"Then he went to Turkey – where he didn't want to go – because of COVID-19. He won four stages. At the last minute he came to the Tour of Belgium and won. He wasn't in the Tour team, and we called him on the Saturday before the Tuesday we left. He wins again, so if you're not emotional now, you will never be.
"He is a special animal, you can say this. He never wanted to leave the team but at the end of the story they are pro riders and it's always about money. He asked me already four years to come back and I said wait for the moment. This was the moment."
Lefevere, who has spent the past week publicly criticising Sam Bennett, after the Irishman pulled out of the Tour squad due to knee injury, said that Cavendish has repaid the team's faith in him with his wins in 2021.
"It's typical of the English always to say 'thank you, thank you', but I know if he says it he means it. I said 'you don't have to thank me. You came here on a minimum salary, I gave you the chance, and you can only thank me with your pedals'. And now it's what he did.
"Realistically if I saw the sprint at the Tour of Belgium – OK it's only the Tour of Belgium, but you have to beat Ewan [who crashed out on stage 3, ed], Philipsen, Merlier, all those guys, and he did it. Otherwise, I would not bring him."
With a possible six nailed-on sprint stages left in the Tour de France – in Châteauroux, Valence, Nîmes, Carcassonne, Libourne, and Paris – there are plenty more opportunities for Cavendish and the team to take more sprint wins. Cavendish has experience winning in several of those towns, in Châteauroux and Nîmes in 2008, and four times in Paris, while he's now in the green jersey as points classification leader, too.
However, Lefevere wouldn't be drawn on future sprints or the chances of Cavendish adding to his 31-stage haul at the race, instead insisting that the team's outlook would continue on a stage-to-stage basis.
"Let's go day by day. He has green. He won the stage. Tomorrow is a time trial. Châteauroux suits him as well. We'll see day by day."
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.
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