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Mark Cavendish sprints to his best result in years at GP Monsere

DOUR BELGIUM MARCH 02 Mark Cavendish of The United Kingdom and Team Deceuninck QuickStep during the 53rd Grand Prix Le Samyn 2021 Mens Elite a 2054km race from Quaregnon to Dour GPSamyn on March 02 2021 in Dour Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Mark Cavendish at 2021 Le Samyn in early March (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) secured his best result in years with second place in the Grote prijs Jean - Pierre Monseré. The former road world champion was caught out when Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) launched a long-range sprint with around 150m to go, but the 35-year-old had enough speed to hold off the rest of the peloton and secure a spot on the podium. Merlier would take the win in Roeselare.

“I’m a little bit disappointed. I felt it and I felt good," Cavendish told EuroSport TV after the race. "We were going good. The team controlled it in the end. We got sandwiched but honestly Merlier was really clever. When he saw that he launched it dead quick. What can you do? When you’re that smart and that quick and think that much on your feet in a bike race then you deserve the win.

“I tried to chase. I thought I knew I was running out of road but I just tried, tried, tried. When you saw how Tim caught Rasmus Tiller on Tuesday, it was just a bit too late," he said about Le Samyn earlier in the week, which was also won by Merlier. "Obviously it was nice to get on the podium but I’m a little disappointed, that’s for sure.

”My leadout man Bert got sandwiched. I don’t know what happened but that’s one of those things when you’ve got a load of guys going for the same bit of road. He guided me perfectly. I saw Tim going but by the time I reacted he had the gap.”

Cavendish moved to Deceuninck-QuickStep in the winter after a difficult year at Bahrain McLaren that saw him miss out on Tour de France selection for the second year running, and his sprint chances limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It looked as though his career in the WorldTour was almost over but Patrick Lefevere’s team offered him a one-year contract and the chance to resurrect his life as a professional cyclist as part of a team on which he enjoyed huge success between 2013 and 2015.

Cavendish’s road career has been in decline in recent years, not least due to a virus that was first diagnosed on 2017 and wrecked several seasons. His last top-three result before Sunday came on a stage of the Tour of Turkey back in April 2019, while his last win was on stage 3 of the Abu Dhabi Tour in 2018.

Back in January of this year, the 30-time Tour de France stage winner told the press that he still felt competitive and that he was driven to rediscover his success on the bike.

"I’m a realist. I’m not looking to hang on to something or try to finish my career as I want to in a fairytale way. I just know I’m still good," he said during the Belgian team’s virtual media day in Spain. "If I thought I wanted to go and win six stages at the Tour de France, I’m in fairytale land and it makes it even less likely if you come to the strongest team in the world who have dominated." 

Sunday’s result was backed up by a strong leadout from Patrick Lefevere’s team with Deceuninck-QuickStep chasing down several key breaks in the second half of the race. The race was Cavendish’s third outing in the team’s colours after he raced Clasica de Almeria and Le Samyn earlier this spring. 

"When we talked about my programme for the year I just said I don’t really mind what I do. I just really want to race in Belgium as much as I can. I don’t need to look at my power meter. It’s just racing, isn’t it? The Flemish people love cycling and they just get. I want to be Flemish and it’s about the racing," Cavendish said.

"I’ll do Nokere Koerse. It’s the first time in my career that I’ll do that race. We’ll see what happens there. We’ll keep rolling, keep racing and keep having fun."