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Mark Cavendish's chances of Tour de France selection hit by lack of racing

Rod Ellingworth and Mark Cavendish at the Saudi Tour
Rod Ellingworth and Mark Cavendish at the Saudi Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Mark Cavendish’s chances of adding to his sprint win tally at this year’s Tour de France have been affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Bahrain McLaren team manager Rod Ellingworth has admitted, with the team likely to be built around Mikel Landa's hopes of overall success.

Cavendish was left out of Dimension Data's Tour de France squad last year after battling with Epstein Barr virus. He moved to Bahrain McLaren for 2020 to make a clean start, teaming up with his old coach and mentor Ellingworth.

He was hoping to add to his 30 Tour de France stage victories and perhaps move closer to Eddy Merckx's record of 34. However with racing expected to be limited before this year's September Tour de France, Cavendish has little chance to show his form and so secure a place in Bahrain McLaren's eight-rider roster for the Tour.

"He doesn’t have automatic selection for the Tour and he doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want it just handed to him. But we made an agreement that if he was winning races that would be enough to go to the Tour.

"Unfortunately, that changes and with so little racing beforehand it cuts his chances of being able to prove he’s back at a decent level," Ellingworth explained to the PA news agency, acknowledging Cavendish' dimension in the sport and the ambitions he transmits to his teammates.

"Technically he’s one of the best sprinters in the world, and if he’s got the form he’s proved many times he can do it with or without a lead-out train," Ellingworth said. "Mark brings a lot of value to the team, just in terms of his mindset and his goal-setting."

Called into question, Cavendish posted a thread of comments on social media.

"Just thought I’d clarify on a small, almost nothing, story that’s getting a bit blown out of proportion for clicks today, with regards for Tour de France selection," he wrote. 

"Personally, I’d always love to go to @letour, or any race, only if I felt I could add value to the team, or if I believed I held the best chance of success for a team. I think the majority of professionals feel the same about their position.

"With a 5 month layoff from racing, every rider is in the same boat with lack of races to show form. I’m very fortunate with @BahrainMcLaren to be in a team that will look at things logically and put the best team on the start line. 

"With @MikelLandaMeana as a firm GC favourite & with an incredibly talented group of 29 riders, if I do or don’t fit into a specific strategy, I’m confident it will be on fair judgement and with discussion from people I trust and who are World leaders in the sport, just the same as every other rider on the team. Hope this clears it up straight from my mouth."

Planning for 2020 and long-term financial survival

Like many teams Bahrain McLaren are trying to plan for the rescheduled and compact 2020 season, while trying to ensure their long-term financial survival and build for the future.

Last week Ellingworth admitted to Cyclingnews that he had talked to Chris Froome about him joining Bahrain McLaren for 2021 but riders have faced salary deferrals in recent months. On Tuesday, McLaren acknowledged it had been "severely affected" by the coronavirus pandemic and confirmed reports it would cut a quarter of its workforce, equating to 1,200 job losses. McLaren is a 50 per cent partner in the team and is owned by the Mumtalakat Bahrain sovereign wealth fund.

"We are literally just waiting to find out how it affects the team," Ellingworth admitted to PA. "A lot of things are uncertain, but I’m not hearing anything super negative like the team might be finishing or whatever. When we get chance to really sit down and talk we will do."

Like most team, Bahrain McLaren are trying to work out their plans and protocols for a return to training and racing. Different squads will compete in different parts of the world at the same time. The fall in the number of cases of COVID-19 in individual countries and the decisions of local authorities will ultimately decide if races go ahead.

Ellingworth is hoping Bahrain McLaren can return to racing at the Vuelta Burgos in late July but the organisers are yet to confirm the Spanish event will take place.

"It’s all a bit pie in the sky at the moment," Ellingworth said. "It could be that only the Dauphine and the Tour go ahead, but who knows?"

Ellingworth admitted the rescheduled calendar could stretch Bahrain McLaren's resources.

"If it all goes ahead, at some point we’re going to have to pay a fine because we’ll need 30 riders to cover all the races and we only have 29, so we physically can’t do it," Ellingworth said.

"But also, if we’re limited with the number of staff we can have at a race, the riders get less care and attention which in a Grand Tour is a health issue potentially."