Mark Cavendish has reportedly signed for Astana-Qazaqstan, and will join the Kazakh team at its training camp in Calpe, Spain tomorrow, according to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Cavendish, out of contract at Quick Step-Alphavinyl, had been expected to sign for the French outfit B&B Hotels for 2023, until its sponsorship plans for next season fell apart, causing it to fold.
That left the 37 year old, who two years ago tied Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 individual stage wins at the Tour de France, without a team for the coming campaign – until Astana-Qazaqstan general manager Alexander Vinokourov expressed an interest in signing him earlier this week.
And should the report that Cavendish has signed for the team be confirmed, a record-breaking 35th stage victory at cycling’s biggest race will almost certainly be the former world champion’s prime focus next year.
It is, perhaps, an unlikely alliance; it was Vinokourov who, in his final race as a professional cyclist, won the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, a race that Cavendish had started favourite to win, his dreams crushed however as he and his Team GB support riders were distanced on the final ascent of Box Hill.
The previous time Vinokourov had raced in the British capital, on the occasion of the Tour de France Grand Depart there in 2007, also marked Cavendish’s debut in the race, although the participation of both would soon be cut short – the Kazakh due to a failed drugs test for blood doping, the Manxman abandoning as the race hit the Alps.
Cavendish would open his account at the Tour de France the following year, and over the next nine years racked up 30 stage wins at the race to put him within touching distance of Merck’s record.
But plagued by illness and injury, he was not selected by Dimension Data for the 2019 edition of the race, and also missed the delayed 2020 Tour de France as his new team, Bahrain-Merida, also failed to select him.
At the end of that year, he secured a eleventh-hour move to rejoin Deceuninck-Quick Step, and a last-minute injury to Irish sprinter Sam Bennett opened up a slot at the Tour for Cavendish, who repaid Patrick Lefevere’s faith by winning four stages and the green jersey.
There is little room for sentiment in professional cycling, however, and this summer – despite Cavendish putting in a storming solo ride to win the British national road championship for the second time in his career – it was Fabio Jakobsen, recovered from his horrific injuries following a crash at the Tour de Pologne in 2020, who was selected as Quick Step-Alphavinyl’s sprinter for the Tour.
Cavendish’s career achievements of course go well beyond the Tour de France – three times a world champion on the track in the Madison and an Olympic silver medallist in the Omnium, on the road his victories include the 2009 Milan-San Remo, the 2011 world championship, plus stages in all three Grand Tours, in which he is one of a select group of riders to have worn the leader’s jersey in each, and an even smaller one to have won the points competition in the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana.
If he does in fact ride one final season, however, all eyes will be on him in July when the Tour de France gets under way in Bilbao – with a chance, in what is highly likely to be his final season in the peloton, to move ahead of Merckx in stage wins at the race.
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