Mark Cavendish has yet to be formally confirmed as a QuickStep rider for 2022, but the Manxman will line out with his trade teammate Iljo Keisse on Tuesday evening as the Ghent Six gets underway on the boards of 't Kuipke.
This is the third time that Cavendish has been paired with the experienced Keisse at the Ghent Six, as they previously rode together in 2014 and 2019. Cavendish won the Ghent Six in the company of Bradley Wiggins in 2016, while local hero Keisse has won the event seven times.
Cavendish and Keisse’s best result as a pairing was their second place in 2014, and they stressed that they were lining up on the velodrome with the principal aim of enjoying themselves.
They pointed to their Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Michael Mørkøv and his partner Lasse Norman Hansen as the favourites after they recently claimed the Madison world title for Denmark.
“I've only been on the track for two days in the last eight months. Then there is no comparison with a duo like Mørkøv and Hansen, who have just become world champions and who have had track preparation,” Cavendish said, according to Het Nieuwsblad.
His point was echoed by Keisse, who explained that he has cut back considerably on his track racing and training in recent years.
“I always have that reputation as a trackie, but actually that’s no longer the case,” Keisse said. “I still ride on the track or six days in a year of competition. And I also train on the track when the weather is too bad. But that’s it.”
The Ghent Six returns on Tuesday night after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, though some restrictions remain in place due to rising case numbers in Europe, with spectators prohibited from eating or drinking in the stands.
Cavendish and Keisse’s opponents in Ghent will also include the Lotto Soudal duo of Roger Kluge and Jasper De Buyst, even if they played down the idea of a rivalry.
Cavendish, who equalled Eddy Merckx’s record haul of 34 stage wins on this year’s Tour de France, suggested that he had little left to prove on the track.
“For me there’s no ego. I'm in the comfortable position where I don't have to show how good I am anymore,” Cavendish said of his ambitions in this week's Ghent Six.
“I have been world champion in the Madison, I have won a lot on the road. My track record speaks for itself.”
Cavendish acknowledged that racing the Ghent Six was “a bit disadvantageous in the build-up to next year’s road season” but he said the lure of racing alongside Keisse and competing once more on the 166m track at 't Kuipke was impossible to resist.
“The history of the Kuipke is so special. The Ghent Six is the Tour de France of track cycling, it’s unlike any other race. As a rider in Belgium you feel that people understand the race. Anyone who comes to watch also understands what’s happening,” he said.
“This is one of the last Six Days we can ride together. It would be nice if we could also enjoy it a bit.”
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