Mark Cavendish says Astana lead-out 'over-eager but learning' after first UAE Tour sprint

Manx sprinter reflects on opening stage with GCN, as Kazakh team look to gain experience but suffer unfortunate crash of Harold Tejada in finale

Clock16:12, Monday 19th February 2024
Mark Cavendish already has one win under his belt this season, taken at the recent Tour Colombia

© Maximiliano Blanco/Velo Collection via Getty Images

Mark Cavendish already has one win under his belt this season, taken at the recent Tour Colombia

Taking a moment to gather himself after stage 1 of the UAE Tour, Mark Cavendish sported a look of relief as he sat down outside of the Astana Qazaqstan minibus. It was a chastening day for the peloton and whilst the Manx sprinter had managed to stay upright in the finale, his young teammate Harold Tejada was not so lucky.

The 26-year-old Colombian was caught up in the mass crash in the final few hundred metres and remounted his bike looking worse for wear. He crossed the line having sacrificed half of his bib shorts and jersey to the merciless asphalt.

"I've just seen him, he's a bit cut up, bless him. It wasn't nice," said Cavendish, speaking exclusively with GCN.

"Coming into the last kilometre, there were so many bodies around that it was like, 'oh, something is going to happen here.' You know it, but you don't know when and you don't know where."

Just as the 38-year-old had feared, the inevitable came to pass when the peloton charged to the line at speeds of over 70km/h.

As Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) rampaged his way to victory, a chaotic scene unfurled behind him. One wrong move from a lead-out rider began a domino effect. Bodies soon began hitting the deck in a cacophony of toe-curling crashes. It was in that pile-up that Tejada went down.

As Cavendish revealed, the talented climber was cruelly punished for his own enthusiasm in trying to lend a hand to the 34-time Tour de France stage winner.

"I was with Michael [Mørkøv], [he] got me into the last kilometre and then it was actually Harold coming up then, dead calm — 'hey Mark, come on!' That's why he was involved," Cavendish explained, naturally disappointed with his teammate's poor fortune.

"He just got taken out as one rider cut across the road, and he took another, I was just to the left of it, I was quite lucky."

Read more: Mark Cavendish: I never lose motivation, I love this sport

Lessons to take into the week for Astana Qazaqstan

Creeping over his hoods and ready to manoeuvre into his trademark sprinting position, Cavendish's momentum was completely halted by the crash. But in truth, the Manxman was not in a position to compete for the victory at that point.

In the overhead shots of the peloton as the riders barrelled down the lengthy finishing straight, Astana Qazaqstan were quite a way down the pack, and Cavendish was honest enough to take the day on the chin as a learning opportunity for his less experienced teammates.

"We've got some young guys who are learning out here," he explained. "We didn't quite do what we wanted. It was over-eager, I guess, at some points, instead of staying patient.

"With a headwind finish, you can always hide and come from behind, [but] we'll talk about it later."

The notion of coming from behind sparks discussion of Movistar's Fernando Gaviria, who is notorious for opening up his sprint early, and did so again on stage 1. But brushing the question off with a chuckle, Cavendish would not be drawn on who the best riders are to follow in the finale for the upcoming sprints.

"You'd rather get your own team right and not have to worry about anything else, that's the ideal thing always. But I'd be giving away secrets if I said who were the best people to follow!"

The next opportunity for Mørkøv and Cavendish to tune up the band will come on stage 4, where a flat day to Dubai Harbour looks certain to end in a sprint. For now, it's time for Tejada to rest up ahead of the day three mountain stage, and for the team to reflect on the lessons for Thursday's lead-out.

As ever in bike racing, nothing will be assured.

"There can be one guy who wins out of 200 bike riders, it's the same every time," said Cavendish. "There's a lot of guys who will try again and with [stage 1 winner, Tim] Merlier, it's not like he's allergic to winning!"

For all the important information about the 2024 UAE Tour, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub for our full preview, the race startlist and much more.

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