Sir Bradley Wiggins believes Mark Cavendish still has “another couple of big wins in him” despite the Manxman ending his season early after being diagnosed for a second time with Epstein-Barr virus, the condition that can cause glandular fever.
The 2012 Tour de France champion knows Cavendish better than most – the Manxman rode alongside him with Team Sky on that race, and they have also been team mates on the road for Columbia and Great Britain – was speaking on the latest episode of his Eurosport Vodcast, the Bradley Wiggins Show.
Last week, Cavendish’s Dimension Data team said he was taking a total break from racing and training as a result of his diagnosis.
Asked by vodcast host Adam Green whether the virus helped explain Cavendish’s results this season – a solitary stage win at February’s Dubai Tour was his first victory in nearly a year – Wiggins said: “I wouldn’t say he’s been that horrendous this year.
“He’s been up there. The crashes he had as well, starting back at San Remo, Dubai earlier in the year [actually Abu Dhabi – ed], he’s had some horrific accidents which you have to put that form down to because you have to build back up from those crashes.
“But obviously he looked really skinny as well this year, skinnier than I’ve seen him for a long, long time, he didn’t look his normal powerful sprinting self.
“He obviously struggled in the Tour and he even said himself he had some moments of good form this year, but I think it was just the consistency which perhaps he put down to the time lost through the crashes.
“I spoke to him last week, I think he’s quite relieved now that he knows what it is, I think he can now start looking towards next year.
“Cav puts a lot of pressure on himself and he takes that leadership role importantly, thanks his team mates, thanks the staff, because he takes it very personally when he doesn’t win for everyone around him, he really feels that responsibility.
“So I think that’s where the relief comes from now, it wasn’t really a physical thing, he’s not used to coming out of the season without winning much, he always comes out of the season with a few victories, so I think to put it down to something gives him hope for the future.”
Asked whether he thought Cavendish would return, Wiggins said: “He’s 34 next year, which is hard to get your head around, but he’s become one of our greatest ever and he’s steeped in British cycling history.”
When Cavendish won four stages at the 2016 Tour de France to bring his career haul to 30, it seemed a case of when, not if, he would surpass Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 stage victories at cycling’s biggest race.
However, his exit last year after a crash on Stage 4 and his early departure this year when he was outside the time limit on Stage 11 – each time without securing a stage victory – mean the record is looking increasingly out of reach, although his place as the most successful sprinter in the race’s history has long been secured.
“It’s become the norm to see him winning two, three, four, five stages at the Tour every year,” reflected Wiggins, who in 2012, wearing the yellow jersey of Tour de France champion, led out Cavendish on the Champs-Elysees as the Manxman took his fifth consecutive – and to date, last – win on the final stage.
“This and last year I think were the first times he didn’t win a stage for a long, long time [the previous one was in 2014 when he crashed on the opening day in Harrogate – Ed].
“You know he is coming towards the end of his career and I think there perhaps are faster sprinters now as we saw in July and there’s a new generation coming through, which is natural and happens to everyone, but it’s certainly not the end of him.
“He’s certainly got another couple of big days in him, wins somewhere, whether that’s a reinvention of himself , I don’t know.”
Cavendish’s last major one-day result was in the World Championships in Qatar in 2016 when he finished second to Peter Sagan, while his last serious challenge at Milan-San Remo – a race he won in 2009 – came in 2014, when he was fifth behind Alexander Kristoff, although Wiggins added that it is one “he can still win.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.