After a Tour de France performance that surpassed all expectations, speculation surrounding Mark Cavendish's future has begun to swirl but the Manxman delayed those thoughts to put his green jersey back on in Belgium.
Cavendish 'won' the Roeselare Criterium on Tuesday, once again 'beating' Jasper Philipsen and teammate Tim Merlier, who were wearing the special-edition purple and amber Alpecin-Fenix kit seen on the opening stage of the Tour de France.
The post-Tour criterium circuit represents a lucrative earning opportunity for those who have been in the spotlight at the Tour de France, with appearance fees for lap-based races that are largely fixed in advance.
The schedule has been ravaged by the pandemic in the last two years, but the Roeselare Criterium still went ahead on Tuesday, the only one in Belgium to do so.
"Racing in Belgium is always special and today will be no different," Cavendish said, according to Het Nieuwsblad.
Roeselare is the hometown of Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere, and a stone's throw from the team's service course, which could lead to discussions about what happens next.
According to Philipsen, Cavendish suggested he might retire if he won the final stage of the Tour on the Champs-Elysées and claimed a record-breaking 35th stage win. However, he had to content himself with four for the Tour and a share of the record with Eddy Merckx.
Winless in three years, the Tour nevertheless marked a stunning comeback from the 36-year-old. He has attributed that resurgence largely to his new environment so would likely be keen to stay, although he can now command a greater salary than the sponsor-funded minimum he signed for this year.
However, Cavendish said any talks over 2022 were far from his mind at this point.
"I haven't seen Patrick yet. I just got back from Paris, so I haven't talked about my future within the team yet. I want to enjoy today," Cavendish said.
"After arriving in Paris, we had a small party. You can't plan or do anything big in these corona times, but everyone on the team was there, so we had a 'bubble party' in which we discussed our Tour de France again.
"I'm going to make some time for my family now. I missed my wife and children. And I also want to recover a bit after a tough Tour."
The pre-criterium time trial in Roeselare was won by Cavendish's teammate Tim Declercq, who was also awarded a red lantern in honour of his last-place finish in the Tour de France. Also present were Dylan Teuns, Edward Theuns, Tim Declercq, Jelle Wallays, Brent Van Moer, and Jonas Rickaert.
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