Riding is Life


Astana or retirement: Cavendish seems to have made his choice

If he sticks to his retirement plans, we'll eat our Monster Energy logo hats.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 22.09.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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You didn’t think that was it now the Vuelta a España is over and most of the major transfers have been announced, did you?

Oh no, professional road cycling now gets to bask in the latest sordid winter habit of the peloton’s fans and followers, namely: what’s Mark Cavendish going to do next?

To catch those up to speed who don’t have push notifications turned on for the Manxman: he signed for Astana-Qazaqstan at the start of 2023 with the sole goal of winning a record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage and despite a misfit leadout finished second on the stage 7 bunch sprint after being thwarted by a mechanical and then crashed out the very next day just as he was hitting his stride.

Cavendish hasn’t raced since then. Having resurfaced in the background of Chris Froome’s Instagram photos last week, GCN reports that the sprinter will race October’s very own Tour of Turkey, presumably with a nice payday from the organisers for Cavendish to turn up as one of the star attractions at their event.

But the bigger question is, what will he be doing in 2024?

Following up on Gazzetta dello Sport’s report that Cavendish and Astana-Qazaqstan were close to renewing for another year, GCN’s unquenchable Dan Benson couldn’t get a firm answer out of various agents and other secret whisperers, but is expecting a deal between the two parties to be struck.

Off to Astana again

Not only have Astana-Qazaqstan recruited fast-man Max Kanter and Cavendish’s former Quick-Step teammate Davide Ballerini for 2024, but Michael Mørkøv’s arrival is expected to be part of any Cavendish renewal deal. We spotted Mørkøv and Astana boss Alexandre Vinokourov chatting at the Tour this year, and we can’t imagine it was about the weather or future holiday plans. That, of course, would reunite Cavendish with the man widely considered the best leadout in the sport, and who helped deliver him to four Tour stage victories in 2021.

But more to the point, this time last year Cavendish was being offered around to a multitude of teams as he looked to eke one final professional contract out of the sport he’s devoted two decades of his life to, after it became clear he wouldn’t be beating Fabio Jakobsen to the number-one sprinter spot at Soudal Quick-Step. (Jakobsen himself, it turns out, is off to DSM-Firmenich next year as the Soudal sprinter carousel continues to turn.)

We reached out to many of those same teams and Escape Collective can report that all those contacted, who were approached by Cavendish’s people in the off-season of 2022, have not been approached this time around. He’s no longer in the shop window, available to the highest (or any) bidder.

This means one of two things: either Cavendish is sticking to his guns and following through with the retirement plans he announced back in May, or the deal with Astana-Qazaqstan is as good as done. We know what our guess is.

You would think it is a decision based purely on Cavendish’s desires, whether he wants it. Vinokourov hasn’t had as much interest in his Tour de France squad in years compared to the buzz around the bus in 2023, and with his son Nicolas stepping up to the WorldTour team in 2024, is he going to deny Vino Jnr of the chance to ride alongside his self-confessed idol?

It makes sense, too. Having come so close this July with an inexperienced leadout, Ballerini and Kanter already provide some much-needed muscle and the potential arrival of Michael ‘needle-threader of bunch sprints’ Mørkøv, it would see a much fairer fight against the Mathieu van der Poel-led Jasper Philipsen and whatever concoction Jumbo-Visma bring (presumably just Wout van Aert without Olav Kooij).

Cavendish’s dream was to sail off into the sunset having won number 35, having pocketed a highly incentivised final professional contract, and deservedly live off of his achievements and celebrity until he grows old.

Instead, it looks like he will have another, better chance at a last hurrah. In a career spent overcoming doubters, the question for the soon-to-be 39-year-old will again be whether he can beat back the sands of time with one final bike throw to become the second-oldest Tour stage winner in history.

(For the true nerds: the oldest-ever stage winner is the Belgian Pino Cerami, who won stage 9 of the 1963 Tour from Bordeaux to Pau at the age of 41 years and 64 days).

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