This story has been updated with the news of Michael Mørkøv’s signing.
Maybe it was the thought of no longer spending 200-odd days a year in middling hotels across continental Europe. Or it could have been the encouragement from Hollywood actor Ben Stiller. Most likely it was the chance to once again go for a record 35th Tour de France stage win after coming agonisingly close last year that convinced Mark Cavendish to sign for one more year with Astana-Qazaqstan.
That news was followed just hours later by the expected announcement that leadout man Michael Mørkøv was also joining Astana on a one-year deal.
“I spoke to the kids and I said, ‘What should dad do?’ They said, ‘Carry on.’ It was an odd question. So, here we are – just one more year, hey?” Cavendish explained of his decision to push back the retirement he announced back in May for another year.
“Well, I guess that was me done this year. I announced my retirement. I was looking forward to not having to get up and train in any weather condition, not be away from home, to spend time with the kids,” he continued.
“Ultimately, I’d miss racing. I love racing, but I was happy, I was in a happy place, and I knew I could go out on top. Obviously, it wasn’t the finish I hoped for, crashing at the Tour de France. But it is what it is. We grew incredibly as a team, Astana Qazaqstan this year, and I felt real family, so much so that the first thing [team boss Alexandr Vinokourov] said to me when I crashed out in France was, ‘Why don’t you do another year?'”
“Nah, nah. Coming back, even from this collarbone – coming back from another injury – was like another time. I was ready, I was at peace, but the more I’ve ridden this summer I just love riding my bike.”
For Vinokourov, he’s managed to follow up his coup of convincing one of the biggest names in the sport to join his organisation with persuading him to ride for a year more than originally planned, and put together a formidable leadout train to back him.
The arrival of Max Kanter from Movistar and Cavendish’s former Quick-Step teammate Davide Ballerini already gives him a much stronger leadout than this season, and the addition of Mørkøv – one of the sport’s best leadout men and who piloted Cav to four Tour stage wins in 2021 – adds the finishing touch to transform the team into one built to break the all-time Tour stage wins record.
In the press release announcing his signing, Mørkøv explained that his motivation was partly to help Cavendish chase wins but also to prepare for his own attempt to target Olympic gold in the Madison event at the 2024 Paris Games. Mørkøv is the defending champion in the event, taking gold with Danish teammate Lasse Norman Hansen at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
“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,” Vinokourov explained.
“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.”
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