Mark Cavendish will not come any closer to Eddy Merckx's record tally of 34 Tour de France stage wins this year, as the British sprinter has been left out of Dimension Data's squad for La Grande Boucle.
Cavendish, who has 30 Tour stages to his name, has been hampered by Epstein Barr Virus in recent years and although he declared he was clear of the threshold in May, he has struggled for form in 2019.
Dimension Data were one of the last teams to name their eight-rider roster for the Tour, which begins in Brussels on Saturday. They did so on Tuesday morning, naming a squad that is set up for stage wins, from the likes of Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Valgren, and Steve Cummings. In Cavendish's absence, they have a pure sprinter in the form of Giacomo Nizzolo, who won a stage of the recent Tour of Slovenia, a race where Cavendish was also present.
Despite being the biggest name on their team, and the rider around whom they built when moving to WorldTour level in 2016, the 34-year-old wasn’t mentioned in Dimension Data’s announcement and no explanation was given for his absence.
"It’s a squad that carries a huge amount of experience and will look to challenge by way of aggressive racing, while at the same time staying true to our team’s goal of changing lives through bicycles," read the team’s statement.
This will be the first Tour de France Cavendish has missed since he made his debut at the race in 2007. While he didn’t win a stage that year, he won four in 2008, six in 2009, four in 2010, five in 2011, three in 2012, and two in 2013. Things dried up for a couple of years as he crashed out on the opening day in 2014 and ‘only’ managed one win in 2015, but he bounced back with four wins in 2016 in his first season with Dimension Data. That was his last win, as he was taken out by another crash early in 2017, and Epstein Barr held him back in 2018.
Cavendish struggled to return to full health, but has managed to race 39 days in 2019 so far. Though he wasn’t pushing himself to compete for stage wins, he finished the Vuelta a San Juan and UAE Tour, before abandoning Paris-Nice in the crosswinds on stage 2. A third-place finish in a Tour of Turkey stage was promising, and after the Tour de Yorkshire, he declared his blood values showed he was below the threshold for having the Epstein Barr virus. However, he then abandoned the Tour of California on stage 7, before being dropped from the peloton ahead of the bunch finishes at the Tour of Slovenia. He raced the British national championships on Sunday, finishing 22nd.
Nizzolo is effectively Cavendish’s replacement, showcasing better form in Slovenia. He has never ridden the Tour de France and has never won a Grand Tour stage but has won the points jersey at the Giro d’Italia and has two wins to his name this year.
However, Dimension Data’s lead figure will be Edvald Boasson Hagen, who can compete in bunch sprints as well as competing on more selective stages. The Norwegian has won three stages at the Tour, including one for Dimension Data in 2017. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg is another rider with a fast finish on rougher terrain, and starts his fifth Tour.
Steve Cummings returns to the Tour de France, having missed out last year. The 38-year-old British breakaway specialist claimed the team’s first Tour victory back in 2015, with added significance in that it came on Mandela Day. He won again from the break in 2016. He has been below his best recently, however, and failed to finish his last three stage races - Basque Country, Tour of Norway, and the Criterium du Dauphine, leaving the latter on stage 2.
"I was pleasantly surprised about the Tour selection, I wasn’t expecting that," he admitted. "I’m very grateful to the team again for the opportunity to go to the Tour and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think it’s a pretty open Tour, there are a lot of chances to be aggressive and I think it suits the team that we have very well and I hope that we can have a great July and every one can be proud of us."
Michael Valgren is selected despite a disappointing first season with Dimension Data so far, following his stand-out Classics performances with Astana last year. Roman Kreuziger is another new signing and Ardennes specialist who brings experience with eight Tours under his belt.
Ben King is another rider who will try and make it into breakaways, earning his first Tour start since 2014 after winning two mountain stages at last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Finally, the team is rounded out by Lars Bak, who will ride in a more traditional domestique role.
Dimension Data for the Tour de France: Lars Bak, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Ben King, Roman Kreuziger, Giacomo Nizzolo, Michael Valgren.