Mark Cavendish could lead Deceuninck-Quick Step’s sprint challenge at the Tour de France, which starts in Brittany a week on Saturday should Sam Bennett not recover from injury in time – although team manager Patrick Lefevere has said that a renegotiation of the 35 year old’s contract would be needed first.
The news, revealed by Lefevere in his regular column for the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, comes on a weekend that ends with Cavendish winning the final stage of the Baloise Belgium Tour.
The former world champion joined the Belgian team, which he had previously raced for from 2013 to 2015, in December last year following a season with Bahrain-McLaren.
The deal was made possible by him bringing a personal sponsor on board to finance his contract, which according to Lefevere is based on the UCI minimum, which currently stands at €40,045 a year.
Bennett, who won two stages and the points classification at last year’s Tour de France, sustained a knee injury while training earlier this month, which the team manager says may not be sufficiently healed before the Grand Depart.
Meanwhile, Fabio Jakobsen is not an option given he has only recently returned to racing after the horrific injuries he sustained at the Tour de Pologne last year.
Lefevere said: “I went to dinner with Cavendish on Sunday evening and the subject came up.
“I asked him, ‘Do you want to do another Grand Tour?’ and he replied, ‘Not on this salary.’
“I know that may seem a cynical response, but I understand his point of view.
“Mark is 35 and came to us at the last minute, and when he signed the Tour was absolutely out of the question.
“He signed a contract at the minimum wage because we had minimal expectations.”
With 30 stage wins, Cavendish is the most successful sprinter in the history of the race and is four wins short of Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 victories, the Belgian’s total including time trials.
That record looked well within reach following the 2017 Tour de France, where Cavendish secured what to date remain his final four victories, but he struggled with illness in the 2018 race, finishing outside the time limit on Stage 11, and was not selected for the past two editions.
Lefevere acknowledged that if Cavendish were selected, the Manxman might find himself under pressure to perform.
“I understand that he’s not thrilled about doing the Tour,” he said. “For him it would mean being under pressure, constantly under the magnifying glass of the media.
“Even if he were only close to achieving success, everyone would immediately start talking about the record of Eddy Merckx, who has 34 victories against Mark’s 30.
“It’s not fair to evaluate a rider who races on minimum salary as if he were Deceuninck-Quick Step’s main sprinter, with all the expectations that entails.”
Lefevere said that one solution, should Bennett not recover in time, might be to renegotiate Cavendish’s contract.
“There’s no plan B if Bennett isn’t at the start and at the moment there is a lot of uncertainty over an injury that could keep him out for longer than expected,” explained Lefevere, raising the possibility of “offering a new contract to Cavendish before the Tour, on better terms.
“With the level he’s now reached, he wants to carry on for at least another year,” he added.
Cavendish’s win in Belgium today is his fifth of the season, the first four coming in April at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey, where his Stage 2 win was his first success in more than three years.
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