Deceuninck-QuickStep may have celebrated 100 Grand Tour stage wins before Tuesday’s fourth stage in the Tour de France, but team boss Patrick Lefevre said Mark Cavendish’s victory in the Fougères was the most emotional of all time.
Speaking after the finale, which saw Manxman beat Nasir Bohani (Arkia Samsik) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpsin-Phoenix) to the lineup to take his first Tour stage in five years, the veteran boss said it was the first time he had seen his team. The whole team in tears after the win.
“We’ve had over 100 Grand Tour wins, but I’ve never seen all the staff cry,” Lefevre said. “I think all the staff were crying because everyone went for his feelings.
“Cavendish really talked about it from day one, that he won here in 2015,” said Lefevere cycling news. “He was as excited as a kid doing his first race. He had a lot to lose and nothing to win, but I said ‘No, that’s not right – you’re an underdog, and the others have to win.'” You’ve come to the Tour de France and you can make it.”
Understandably the most emotional himself, Cavendish battled depression and the Epstein-Barr virus in the past three years before hitting the top of the sprinting world again on Tuesday.
Lefevere said after striking a deal with Deceuninck-QuickStep last December, he still had to battle adversity to make the tour.
“Eight months ago, Cavendish didn’t have a team. I took him on the team. He had a bullshit program — all races were canceled at the start of the season.
“Then he went to Turkey – where he didn’t want to go – because of COVID-19. He won four stages. At the last minute he came to the Tour of Belgium and won. He wasn’t on the Tour team, and we called him on Saturday before we left on Tuesday. He won again, So if you’re not emotional now, you never will be.
“He’s a special animal, you can tell. He never wanted to leave the team but at the end of the story they are professional riders and it’s always about the money. He actually asked me four years to come back and I said wait for the moment. That was the moment.”
Lefevere, who spent the past week publicly criticizing Sam Bennett, after the Irishman pulled out of the Tour squad with a knee injury, said Cavendish had repaid the team’s faith in him with a win in 2021.
‘It’s usual for the English to always say ‘Thank you, thank you’, but I know if he says that he means it. I said ‘You don’t have to thank me.’ You came here on a minimum salary, you were given the opportunity, and you can only thank me with your pedals. Now that’s what he did.
“Realistically if you see the sprint in the Tour of Belgium – well, it’s only the Tour of Belgium, but you have to beat Ewan [who crashed out on stage 3, ed], Phillipsin, Merler, all those guys, and he did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bring him.”
With six potential sprint stages in the Tour de France – at Châteauroux, Valence, Nîmes, Carcassonne, Libourne and Paris – there are plenty of opportunities for Cavendish and the team to score more sprint wins. Cavendish has winning experience in several of those cities, at Châteauroux and Nimes in 2008, and four times in Paris, while wearing the green jersey as the points leader as well.
However, Lefevere won’t be drawn on future sprints or chances of Cavendish adding to his 31-stage space in the race, instead insisting the team’s outlook will continue on a stage basis.
“Let’s go day by day. He’s green. He won the stage. Tomorrow is a time trial. Châteauroux suits him too. We’ll see day by day.”