Sean Kelly: I can’t see Mark Cavendish returning to the Tour de France

Eurosport and GCN commentator also weighs in on Pogačar vs Vingegaard

Clock10:24, Monday 10th July 2023
Mark Cavendish in action at the 2023 Tour de France

Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Mark Cavendish in action at the 2023 Tour de France

Sean Kelly believes that we have probably seen the last of Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) at the Tour de France after the British sprinter crashed out on stage 8 of the race. The Eurosport and GCN commentator has also weighed in on the gripping GC battle at the Tour, giving his expert take on the battle for the yellow jersey.
Cavendish is due to retire at the end of the season and was vying to win a record-breaking 35th stage at the Tour de France this year. He came agonisingly close on stage 7, finishing second to Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) but within 24 hours the British sprinter’s race was in tatters after he crashed and was forced to abandon on stage 8. While Cavendish has not yet commented on his future his Astana team boss Alexandre Vinourkov has told the press that he would be more than willing to offer Cavendish another one-year contract with a view of breaking the stage win record.

Kelly, a four-time green jersey winner, believes that Cavendish’s future will come down to his levels of motivation, but with the veteran edging towards his 39th birthday next spring the chances of seeing him line up at next year’s Grand Depárt appear to be slim.

“I don’t think that he will do it. I don’t think that he should do it,” Kelly told GCN ahead of Monday’s first rest day in the Tour.

“At this point in his career he’s pushing out well but to go back and do another year again, I don’t think that he should. It all depends on if he has the hunger to want to do it with what he needs to do in the winter and training camps and all of that. It’s hard to see if he has that motivation to go on for another year.”

What made Cavendish’s departure from the Tour de France even more disappointing for his fans was the fact that he was so close to breaking the record. Had he been well off the pace during the first week of racing then the clamour or interest in prolonging his career may not have been a consideration for Vinokourov but second in Bordeaux to Philipsen and two further top-ten in the sprints suggested that Cavendish still had the speed to at least compete.

“He has a lot of speed. He sprints really well considering his age and when you look at the young guys coming up he’s still so close. I suppose that’s the real heartbreak, he was so close and going forward there was a real chance to get that stage win. Crashing out of the Tour, in your final year, that’s a cruel one. When you’re riding well and you’re getting up there in the sprints, you’re still competitive and that’s good for the head. He doesn't get to finish the Tour on his terms. I know exactly what it’s like. I crashed out in ‘87. It was a hard one to take because I had a difficult finish at the Vuelta. I was on my way to winning that but had to stop.”

For Kelly, the future for Cavendish all depends on his level of motivation, and whether the 38-year-old wants to put his body through another season on the road and away from his young family.

“It all depends on his mindset and if he wants to go on. I would say that it’s difficult. He’s pushed his career out for the last couple of years but it’s so hard with all the new guys coming in and this sport is so dangerous. When you stand back and study it a bit, I don’t see why he should go on.”

Away from the sprints, the battle for the yellow jersey intensified through the Pyrenees with defending champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) leading the charge after nine stages. Two-time winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) sits second at just 17 seconds in arrears having dropped the Dane in the last two mountain finishes.

It’s a complete turnaround for Pogačar who was on the ropes on stage 5 to Laruns after Vingegaard dropped him. Since then Pogačar has won a stage and moved from 1:40 behind the yellow jersey to within striking distance.

“It’s certainly looking better for Pogačar than it was in the first few days. When you consider the situation, and not racing for two months, it was looking like it could be a boring race but now it’s looking like it could be back on. Pogačar looks a bit better but when we get onto the longer climbs, that’s when I think Vingegaard will be at his best. The good thing is that we have a fight on and we’re going to have a battle because it didn’t look good when Vingegaard rode away from Pogačar,” Kelly told GCN.

While both yellow jersey candidates have reason to be confident ahead of the second and third week, Kelly has given Vingegaard the slightest of edges at this point.

“I think Vingegaard is still in a good position. My concern would be that Pogačar may start to struggle at the end of the second week and the third week after not having the racing. That would be the normal way of thinking. If you’ve not had a good race programme you can suffer in the third week of a Grand Tour. Pogačar is different though, he’s one of those freak natural talents,” he said.

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