'It will be Ballerini, then me and then Mørkov' in Mark Cavendish's lead-out, reveals Cees Bol

Dutchman looks at the plan ahead for Astana Qazaqstan at 2024 Tour de France, as team revels in the additions from Soudal Quick-Steps's lead-out train

Clock19:10, Wednesday 20th December 2023
Cees Bol and Mark Cavendish first united in 2023, and will benefit from this experience next season

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Cees Bol and Mark Cavendish first united in 2023, and will benefit from this experience next season

It is more than 15 years since Mark Cavendish's first Tour de France stage win. On that fateful day in Châteauroux, the Manxman took his lead from the acceleration of future teammate Mark Renshaw. 33 further stage victories later and Renshaw's name is synonymous with Cavendish's record, as is that of Michael Mørkøv, with both pivotal to the 38-year-old's success as his trusty lead-out men.

Whether it be the memorable Cavendish-Renshaw 1-2 on the Champs-Élysées in 2009, or Quick-Step's pitch-perfect approach to stage win number 33 in Valence three years ago, Cavendish's lead-out has at times been indomitable.

This year, that task was handed to Cees Bol of the Netherlands. A mechanical and misfortune robbed Bol of the chance to write his name into the story of Cavendish and the Tour de France but joined by two of Quick-Step's lynchpins in 2024, the Dutchman already has his eyes set on how Astana Qazaqstan will make history together with Cavendish in July.

"There's more people now working [towards our goal], you can feel that in some things the approach is a little bit different now," Bols says of an Astana squad bolstered by signings both on and off the bike.

Speaking to GCN from Astana Qazaqstan's winter training camp in Altea, Spain, Cees Bol is a rider at home in the Kazakh set-up, which - as new sports director Renshaw noted - is night and day from the team that tried to guide Mark Cavendish to a 35th Tour de France stage victory in July.

Bol only arrived at the team's December camp on the final day last year, but would soon become a pivotal figure as Astana Qazaqstan looked to cobble together a last-minute squad for Cavendish. The British sprinter had been let down by Jérôme Pineau's B&B Hotels project, but was offered a reprieve by Alexandr Vinokourov's team in January.

Bol and Cavendish sought to build a relationship in the early months of the campaign, with the Dutchman acting as the final teammate, rather than the designated sprinter, for the first time in his career.

As was to be expected, it was far from smooth sailing for the pair and Cavendish would be without a win heading into his first Grand Tour of 2023, the Giro d'Italia. But on the eve of his 20th season as a professional, the 38-year-old can now benefit from a disciplined lead-out that Bol reveals has already settled on their likely formula for 2024.

Read more: 'Knowing I was valued is biggest factor in not retiring' says Mark Cavendish

"It can change sometimes, but as we see it now, it will be Davide [Ballerini], me, Michael [Mørkøv]," Bol says to GCN. This will likely see Ballerini guide his teammates into the final kilometre of races, before Bol takes over and hands the reins to Mørkøv - who has long been credited as being the world's best lead-out man.

"But it can depend on the shape of the riders, the parcours we are doing or for unknown reasons in the finale. I think that’s also good that Davide, me and Michael, all three of us have the speed to be the last man, but Michael has the experience and the overview, so he is proven to be the last man."

Bol noticed the expertise of Ballerini and Mørkøv within hours of training

Let there be no doubt, Cavendish and Bol progressed leaps and bounds as the season unfolded and whilst at first, the Brit would sometimes be seen leaving his teammate's wheel in the finale, Bol was one of the first names on the teamsheet for the Tour de France in July.

It was clear to see, however, that Astana Qazaqstan were cobbling together a lead-out made up of riders less experienced in the task.

Luis León Sánchez rode valiantly in his final season as a pro, Gianni Moscon became one of the best teammates Cavendish has ever had - his own words - but at the decisive moment in the Giro d'Italia, Cavendish had to rely on the gracious support of former teammate Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) to well position their unit.

This has been rectified for 2024. Not only have Ballerini and Mørkøv joined the team, but so too have Rüdi Selig and Max Kanter, bolstering the plethora of sprinting options now at Astana. For Bol, the calibre of the team's incomings has been obvious from the moment the group started training together.

"Today we did lead-out training, but also just the town sign sprints we do are on a high level - of course, we prioritise safety first - but they are important to work like that, make fun," says Bol. "At the same time, if Michael starts his sprint, you already know that it is in the right moment."

"Maybe even more in the sign sprints, I can notice the level and expertise of Michael and Davide. With guys like [Gleb] Syritsa already in the team, but also now with Rüdi Selig and Max Kanter coming in, we have so many guys who can win a sprint, like today we have to do the good lead-out just to beat the other train of the same team! That is something we couldn’t do last year."

Bol ended his first season with Astana Qazaqstan without a victory to his name, but personal success is of secondary importance to the Dutchman, who is content in soaking up the lessons his more experienced teammates have to offer.

Read more: Mark Cavendish's 2024 Tour de France squad 'miles ahead' of 2023, says Mark Renshaw

The Tour Colombia, Spring Classics and definitively no Giro d'Italia are the insights Bol could glean about his 2024 racing calendar. In the meantime, the Dutchman continues to race for town signs alongside Astana Qazaqstan's new lead-out legion - a collective which may well prove as formidable as Cavendish's stables of old.

"We are getting the feeling together for the momentum and the speed and the slipstream, but for sure with the way we talk about the execution of these training sessions and how we did, you can feel everybody knows what they are talking about," Bol said.

"They are great riders but they are also really good guys, so it’s a pleasure to train with them everyday."

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