All-time great sprinter Mark Cavendish said he was loving every minute of his final season ahead of Saturday’s Tour de France Grand Depart in Bilbao.
The 38-year-old, who is tied for the Tour de France stage win record with Eddy Merckx on 34, looked fit and well at his pre-race press conference in downtown Bilbao.
The man known for his speed on a bike often paused at great length before answering questions.
When asked about the possibility of breaking the all-time stage tally, he paused for at least a minute before answering that he didn’t know.
Having said in May that he planned to retire after this season, on Thursday, he left the door ajar for another year when asked when his last race would be.
“I’m still racing, still loving it, and I’ll keep doing it until I stop,” he said.
“The biggest thing I can say is never give up, do what you want and enjoy it, but commit to it. It’s a good rule to live by.
Asked how he was, he paused before answering: “I’m alright thanks.”
“You never really know where you are at until the racing starts, you just have to do what you can to prepare,” added Cavendish who is racing with Astana Qazaqstan this season.
“The physical level is higher these days than when I started,” said Cavendish, who has been racing since 2008.
“Everyone is much closer in level than they used to be,” he said.
Cavendish has had his share of crashes, including a hair-raising fall in the sprint in Harrogate that knocked him out of 2014 Tour de France on the first stage.
When asked about the recent death of the 26-year-old Swiss rider Gino Mader, Cavendish, gave a straight answer.
“It can be a dangerous sport,” he said.
“We know the risks and it’s never nice. It’s not something we look forward to, there’s a certain amount of road for a certain amount of riders and not more.”
He lit up again when asked about the Tour itself.
‘This the last one’
“The whole experience of the Tour de France is indescribable, it gives me the most incredible emotions and you can’t appreciate it at the time,” he said.
“This is the last one for me. I know I don’t appreciate it fully on the day, but I will later.”
Cavendish made a Tour de France comeback in 2021, winning four stages while racing with Quick-Step. The Belgian team did not select him for the race last year.
Unlike Quick Step, Astana have never specialised in sprints.
“In any team you have to adapt to the race, who is there etcetera and make a game-plan around that,” said Cavendish, a canny sprint strategist.
“With Astana being new to sprinting, it takes time to practice. I’ve seen growth here across the team, seeing climbers helping,” he said.
Cavendish scorched into the cycling limelight back in 2008, celebrating his first four Tour de France stage wins with ingenious craft and such passion that he attracted new fans to the sport.
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