In a dramatic turn of events, that had been built up to since July, British cycling legend Mark Cavendish has put his retirement on hold and renewed his contract with Astana Qazaqstan for the 2024 season. The decision appears to be motivated by his desire to capture the elusive Tour de France stage win record, a title he currently shares at 34 victories with the legendary Eddy Merckx.
Initially announcing his retirement during the 2023 Giro d’Italia, Cavendish seemed content with hanging up his wheels at the end of the year. But an unfortunate crash during this year’s Tour de France, resulting in a fractured collarbone and subsequent withdrawal from the race, has compelled him to rewrite the ending of his illustrious career.
Astana Qazaqstan shared a video montage of Cavendish’s past Tour de France glories, using the caption “It’s not over yet.” The 38-year-old echoed the sentiment, stating that he was disappointed to bow out of the race due to a crash but found solace in the familial atmosphere of his current team. His decision to stay on was partly influenced by team manager Alexandr Vinokourov’s support and discussions with his family.
Cavendish had been on a high this summer, coming tantalisingly close to breaking Merckx’s record. He demonstrated that he still has the raw speed to be a major player, narrowly losing to Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen in a sprint finish during stage seven. Philipsen, who clinched four stages and the green points jersey, became an unexpected stumbling block in Cavendish’s path to glory.
Astana Qazaqstan has been notably active in shaping a powerful roster around Cavendish. They’ve secured new signings like Davide Ballerini and Ide Schelling and are rumoured to be in talks with Michael Mørkøv, a pivotal leadout man from Soudal Quick-Step. Astana has also reunited Cavendish with Vasilis Anastopolous, his former coach at Soudal Quick-Step, credited with reviving the Manxman’s form in 2021.
Vinokourov, always a believer in Cavendish’s capabilities, has left the door open for continued collaboration beyond 2024. “We have a chance, and we have to use it,” Vinokourov stated, hinting at Cavendish’s shot at history.
The iconic sprinter is slated to return to competitive action at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Türkiye this weekend, where he’ll likely clash again with Philipsen.
In a career marked by stunning triumphs and heartbreaking setbacks, Cavendish has opted for another lap, fueled by an unquenched thirst for glory and a supportive team ready to chase history alongside him. The postponement of his retirement could well prove to be the prologue to one of sport’s most gripping epilogues.
Mark Cavendish’s pursuit of history is back on the road, and the cycling world will be eagerly watching. His decision to unretire and ink a new deal places him back at the heart of a narrative that remains compelling, a living legend still bent on bending history to his will.