Mark Cavendish is getting off to a slower than expected start on the 2022 season preparations with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl after suffering a crash in mid-November but he is looking further down the road not just at another year's lease on his professional career but how the growth of cycling has opened doors for British riders, including, one day, maybe his own children.
After a stand-out 2021 season that saw Cavendish win four stages of the Tour de France and the green jersey after being brought on as a late replacement for sprinter Sam Bennett, the 36-year-old's fortunes turned during the offseason. He crashed heavily in the Gent Six-Day and was hospitalized for several days with a collapsed lung and broken ribs, and then suffered a traumatic assault when burglars broke into his home and threatened him and his family with knives.
With the setbacks, Cavendish says his training is behind schedule and as such, his racing calendar has not yet been established. "We have a rough idea where we want to go but obviously, I was late starting training after my crash. I'm working every day more and more to catch up on my fitness. I'm happy with how things are going."
Cavendish says he is continuing to look ahead to the season despite the opportunity to reflect on his career's accomplishments, which he added to by equalling Eddy Merckx's record of Tour de France wins last year. "If you start looking back short-term then you're not moving forward. That has been my mantra throughout my career, and it still is now.
"I have a job to do and that's to race my bike. I think every year whether you've won or not, it's the same to go out and do your best. I'll do that again."
It is no given that Cavendish will be selected for QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's team for the Tour de France. At the beginning of his lengthy contract negotations with Cavendish, manager Patrick Lefevere stated outright that there would be no spot on the Tour team for Cavendish, because the team wanted to support Fabio Jakobsen there. When asked about the 2022 Tour, Cavendish deflected the question.
"Every bike rider wants to go to the Tour de France," Cavendish said. "I'm a professional bike rider. I'll do everything I can to be fit for every race I'm preparing for. That's the job of a professional bike rider. I did it last year. Even when I didn't know my programme, I made sure I was fit for every race I went to. I'll continue to do that as it's what I've done my whole career."
At the team's camp in Spain, Cavendish is rooming with British neo-pro Ethan Vernon, 21, and helping him to feel like part of the family in the team.
"This team is well known for being quite easy to fit into. It doesn't take long to feel welcome and feel part of the family. I felt that in maybe December 2020 it was a bit new, but by January I felt welcome, and I still do. Hopefully the new guys in the team feel the same as I did this time last year.
"I think it's important that you're a family as well as teammates. It's not just in cycling, it's in most places. If people connect on an emotional level, then performances are going to be better. I don't think that just stands to cycling," he said, adding that he's happy to pass on his knowledge to the younger riders.
"I remember how people supported me when I was young and that was through love of the sport. I hope these lads can try and do the same when they're my age.
"I'm fortunate to ride my bike as a professional. In Belgium, cycling is in everyone's blood – but to be able to witness the growth of cycling elsewhere during my career - that's a pleasure that I never thought cycling would be as it is when I first started. It's brilliant to see you know, for the future generation and for my kids. Cycling is going to be a platform that – it's not a little niche sport like when I started out. That's super nice to witness.
Cavendish and his partner Peta often bring their children to the races and Cavendish says his youngest son, Casper, "is crazy about it". But he gets more emotional when discussing the improving prospects for female cyclists.
"Seeing what my female colleagues have been putting into the growth of women's cycling - they're laying the foundation for my daughter to have the choice to ride a bike, not just trying to do it but she can choose to do that as a professional if she wants," he said. "I can get emotional about it. They're making a future for my daughter, and you've got to be thankful for that."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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