“It’s not over yet.” Those four simple words, posted on Astana Qazaqstan’s social media accounts, accompanied by a montage of Mark Cavendish’s successful if ultimately anti-climactic year at the Kazakh team, reverberated around the cycling world this morning. Less than two hours later, the news was confirmed: Cavendish – last seen perched forlornly in the back of a medical vehicle at the Tour de France, his record-breaking dreams in tatters – will continue racing his bike in 2024.
The decision to delay his retirement from professional cycling and extend his contract with Astana, one that has been brewing since the 38-year-old broke his collarbone on stage eight of this year’s Tour while seemingly within reach of nabbing that elusive 35th stage win at the race, was made, Cavendish said in a statement today, following discussions with his family.
“Well, this year I announced my retirement, and I was looking forward to not having to get up and train every day and not to be away from home for such a long time, instead spending time with my family. I love cycling, I love racing, however, I was happy with that decision,” the former world champion, who initially revealed his plans to retire at the end of 2023 at the Giro d’Italia in May, said.
However, Cavendish’s race-ending crash at the Tour – which came just a day after a mechanical issue foiled a golden opportunity to become the outright holder of the record for most stage wins at the race, a mark he currently shares with Eddy Merckx – immediately fuelled speculation that the Manx Missile would return for another crack at stage win number 35.
Astana’s general manager, Alexandr Vinokourov, who offered Cavendish a contract in January this year following the controversial collapse of the ill-fated B&B Hotels set-up, told reporters on the morning after the sprinter’s exit that “his career cannot end here”, and that the pair had already “joked” about a return in 2024.
“Obviously, crashing out of the Tour de France was not the finish of my career I hoped for,” Cavendish – who will return to racing for the first time since July at next week’s Tour of Turkey – continued.
“But it is what it is. Together with Astana Qazaqstan, we grew incredibly as a team this year and it felt like a real family.
“So, the first thing Alexandr Vinokourov said to me there at the Tour de France after my crash was ‘why not do another year?’. Well, my first reaction was ‘no, no…’. I was not ready to change my decision, I was at peace with it.
Then, I discussed it with my family, my kids and I got their answer: ‘you should carry on, well, just one more year’.
“So, now I believe I am ready for this, another year as a professional rider, and I am happy I can do it and finish it with Astana Qazaqstan Team. I love this team and even beyond next year I’d like to do something more for this project. However, that’s a question for the future.”
Astana’s ability to convince Cavendish to sign on for one more year, what will be his eighteenth full season as a professional since turning pro with T-Mobile in 2007, was no doubt aided by their acquisition of both Michael Mørkøv, the world-class leadout rider who piloted the Manx rider to his four wins at the 2021 Tour, and Vasilis Anastopoulos, Cavendish’s coach during that remarkable comeback season at Quick-Step.
“There is no secret that the Tour de France and a stage win there was the main goal for Mark,” Vinokourov added in the statement released by Astana this morning.
“And on stage seven he was very close to breaking his historical record. However, a heavy crash a day later crossed out all the plans of both the rider and the team.
“I believe that a true champion should not end his career this way. So, I asked Mark if in a few years he would regret that he didn’t try again, and, in turn, suggested to reconsider his decision, to stay for another season, and still to try to win a stage in the Tour de France.
“I think Mark thought about it seriously; it’s not easy to reconsider the decision already made, but in the end Mark agreed, and he will spend 2024 as a rider of Astana Qazaqstan Team.
“While this season Mark’s arrival in the team was quite unexpected, then for the next year we are preparing thoroughly, seriously reviewing the squad, strengthening the sprint direction, making personnel changes.
“It won’t be easy to better the record he shares with Eddy Merckx, it would be a historic achievement, but we have a chance, and we have to use it.
“As for the plans after 2024, certain discussions are underway, and the team is interested in continuing cooperation with Mark. But, of course, first of all our thoughts are about the upcoming season.”
After a turbulent autumn and winter last year, a last-ditch deal with Astana led to Cavendish sprinting to a stunning win in Rome on the final day of the Giro d’Italia.
Could another change of heart culminate in a record-breaking victory on the roads of France next July, and the perfect end to a storied career?
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.