Mark Cavendish was forced to abandon his as-of-yet final Tour de France after suffering a broken collarbone following a crash yesterday, but his team Astana Qazaqstan has said that they're ready to offer him another shot at getting the record-breaking stage win in next year's Tour, with the Team Manager saying that "his career cannot end here".
The Manx Missile's chase of the elusive 35th stage win was cut short by a crash at yesterday's stage eight, which saw the British sprinter go down as he lay holding his shoulder in pain, before he was ushered off into an ambulance.
The team confirmed that he had broken his collarbone, marking an end of his 14th and final Tour. Cycling fans had resigned themselves to accept that Cavendish, one of the world's best, was destined to share the most number of stage wins at Tour de France with Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx.
However, if Astana Qazaqstan is to be believed, there could be something more in store.
Team Manager Alexandr Vinokurov has hinted that Cavendish could make a comeback, with the team more than willing to extend his contract and offer him another chance to get the win.
Vinokurov said: "I hope we will see him soon back in the race. Now it’s too early to say something about his race program. For sure, in my opinion, his career cannot end here. I crashed out in the Tour of 2011 but I came back to win Olympic Gold one year later.
"It would be nice if Mark comes back to the Tour for a 15th time and win that 35th stage. We joked already about it yesterday evening."
He added: “This really hurts. Especially one day after coming so close to a stage win. It’s like this, we need to accept it, but it’s hard after all the sacrifices he did to get to his current level. He had a fair good chance to win a stage in this Tour. In last Giro he crashed more often and in the end he won a stage, now his first crash immediately ends in a nightmare for him.
"Every day he felt better, he was so motivator for his teammates. He was responsible for the team spirit in the race but at the dinner table as well. It’s a huge disappointment for Cav but for all cycling fans as well. Everybody wanted to see him win a 35th stage."
Last evening after returning from the hospital @MarkCavendish visited the team’s hotel to say goodbye to his teammates. Today he’ll fly home. A very fast recovery, good luck, thank you for the great moments and see you soon, Mark!#TDF2023 #AstanaQazaqstanTeam pic.twitter.com/GpP9iC0KNJ
— Astana Qazaqstan Team (@AstanaQazTeam) July 9, 2023
In an interview with the French newspaper L'Equipe, Vinokurov also said: "We are ready to offer him this possibility. But it is he who will decide."
Cavendish's former teammate and legendary lead-out man Mark Renshaw, who recently joined Astana as a "sprint and lead-out consultant" for the Tour, said: "Everyone in the team is hurting. It's hard because we know his shape's here, we know he has the legs. I won't lie, I cried."
Merckx, who besides the highest stage wins record, also holds the record for the most Tour de France wins with five yellow jersey finishes, told Sporza that he hopes Cavendish rides in the 2024 Tour.
"It's unfortunate if his career would end like that," said Merckx. "I hope he still rides the Tour next year and then stops. If he is motivated, why not?"
The Belgian, nicknamed Cannibal, added that he would like to see Cav become the outright record holder. "I have no problem with that. Mark is a very nice guy. I grant it to him," he said.
The 38-year-old had announced his retirement at the Giro d'Italia this May, but bowed out of the Italian Grand Tour with a splendid win in the final sprint in Rome. Many were hoping to see him go out of the Tour, which in his own words has been his "life" and his favourite race, in a similar grandiose fashion in Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Cavendish had showed signs of good form on Friday's sprint stage, almost looking as if he'd nab the win after launching his classic sprint from way back in the leading bunch, catching everyone by surprise. But he was just pipped at the line by Alpecin–Deceuninck's green jersey wearer Jasper Philipsen, who claimed his third victory of this Tour.
There were reports that Cavendish had suffered a mechanical in that sprint, facing gearing issues as they approached the line. Fans were left wondering 'what-if' scenarios had he gotten a clean sprint, and giving everyone hope that number 35 was near.
But as fate would have it, he got caught in the crash yesterday, making it the seventh time he has failed to complete the Tour.
Such an unfair way to end his Tour de France career 💔🚑
🇫🇷14 Tours de France
💚2 Green Jerseys
— ITV Cycling (@itvcycling) July 8, 2023
Astana Qazaqstan said: "Mark Cavendish broke his right collarbone but because of the fracture an osteosynthesis screw in the acromioclavicular joint (being there since his crash in the 2017 Tour de France) became loose and is floating in his shoulder, causing extra pain."
Cavendish, who had signed with the Kazakh team for the 2023 season after he was left without a contract following his departure from Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl in 2022, will return to England on Sunday where he will undergo surgery later.
The team said that he was too disappointed to comment for the moment.
His withdrawal means Astana goes into the remaining 13 stages with six riders, after Spanish rider and former Paris-Nice champion Luis Leon Sanchez was also forced to abandon after the crash-marred fourth stage, which left him with a broken collarbone as well.
Regarding the team's aims now for the rest of the Tour, Vinokurov said: "We need to change our strategy from now on. Today will be hard for all of us but we still have two weeks ahead of us. We will go in the breaks and try to win a stage."
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.