Five Cavendish Tour Takeaways: It’s complicated, the battle between good PR and winning stages in the biggest race on the planet – Should Mark Cavendish start the 2022 Tour de France, or is Fabio Jakobsen a safer bet for stage success? Spencer Martin gives us his thoughts on the Quick-Step – Alpha Vinyl quandary.
The big Cavendish come-back in 2021
I might have cautioned against taking any race schedule announcements too seriously and to take everything we hear from team training camp press sessions with a grain of salt just earlier this week, but a particular team camp announcement from Quick-Step – Alpha Vinyl (formerly Deceuninck – Quick-Step) really caught my attention.
Quick-Step’s top sprinter Fabio Jakobsen
According to the Belgian team, they are already planning on bringing Fabio Jakobsen as their designated sprinter to the Tour de France while leaving Mark Cavendish, who is only a single stage win away from surpassing Eddy Merckx as the all-time stage win leader, at home.
Equal on Tour stage wins
From a sporting point of view, this decision makes perfect sense. Cavendish might be the greatest sprinter of all time, but in their current form, Jakobsen is simply the better rider and gives the team a higher chance at generating Tour victories. This might seem reductive, but winning is what Quick-Step does and team principal Patrick Lefevere is never one to let emotion get in the way of roster selection.
Patrick Lefevere knows what he’s doing
But from a PR perspective, this is a somewhat shocking announcement. Mark Cavendish is one of the biggest cycling stars in the world and at least in Britain, a bonafide celebrity. Leaving the world’s most famous cyclist at home during the sport’s biggest event is a very big deal. And when we factor in Cavendish’s importance to team bike, and de facto co-owner, Specialized, the decision to announce selection so unnecessarily early appears all the more strange.
To help us understand what exactly is going on here, let’s dive into why this decision was made, and most interestingly, why Cavendish still had a good chance at lining up to contest the 2022 Tour de France.
Will it be this easy in 2022?
Five Reasons Quick-Step Made This Decision… And Why Cavendish Still Has a Chance At Tour Glory
1) Despite Cavendish’s incredible 2021 Tour de France performance, Jakobsen is the better sprinter of the two, and it isn’t even close.
- If we look at the win profile of the two riders over the past four seasons, this becomes even more clear.
- Jakobsen has won 25 races to Cavendish’s 11.
- When we distill it down to just WorldTour races, the total is 11 for Jakobsen to 4 for Cavendish.
- This becomes even more impressive when we consider Jakobsen was in a coma following a brutal crash in 2020 and suffered through a 12-month recovery process before returning to competition in August of 2021.
2) While it can look good on paper, Quick-Step is extremely unlikely to take both Cavendish and Jakobsen to the Tour de France.
- Despite calls to the contrary, the double-sprinter model almost always causes more problems than it solves. This is why HTC-Colombia never sent both André Greipel and Mark Cavendish to the Tour while the two best sprinters in the world were teammates.
- Even in the best of times, this arrangement can cause issues. For example, Alpecin-Fenix brought both Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen to the 2021 Tour de France and had the two sprinters switch in and out of sprinter/lead-out roles. But, after Merlier won stage 3, the team failed to win another stage after changing their backing to Philipsen. By attempting to balance sprinting duties, a team can easily miss precious chances to convert wins.
Cavendish needed the Quick-Step train, especially Mørkøv
3) The 2021 Tour de France sprinter field was extremely diluted, which makes it incredibly difficult for Cavendish to prove his
- For a confluence of factors outside Cavendish’s control, his crowning modern achievement, four Tour stage wins in 2021, wasn’t against the world’s best.
- Pre-race injuries to Sam Bennett and Fabio Jakobsen, the stage 3 crash which took out Caleb Ewan, the stage 9 abandonment of Tim Merlier and Wout van Aert, potentially the best sprinter in the race, working double-duty as GC domestique for his Jumbo-Visma team, means that even though Cavendish won four stages, it is difficult for him to prove he can win consistently against the world’s elite sprinter set.
Can Jakobsen Tour stage win like he did in la Vuelta?
4) Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere has signaled over the past year that, just as the stats above show, Jakobsen has a much higher upside and would prefer to back him over Cavendish.
- Jakobsen stated in his interview that Lefevere had already extended his contract prior to his return to form at 2021 Vuelta a España, while he didn’t come to an agreement with Cavendish until the end of December.
- These contrasting contract timelines represent not only Lefevere’s belief but also caused a logistical issue since Jakobsen had likely already been given assurance that he would be heading to the Tour before Cavendish re-signed with the team.
Jakobsen has his eyes on the Tour
5) Taking all of this into account, it begs the question of why Cavendish chose to return to Quick-Step for the 2022 season, especially considering that the main goal remaining in his career is the Tour stage win record.
- While Cavendish almost certainly could have signed with another that was able to guarantee his presence at the Tour, his decision to return to Quick-Step signals that he recognizes the extremely high level of skill across the board and well-drilled leadout present at QuickStep is critical to delivering Tour sprint stage wins.
- And with a start at the Giro d’Italia assured, Cavendish still has the ability to ride his way onto the Tour team by running off a series of wins at the Italian grand tour and hoping that Jakobsen struggles in early-season sprints.
- Lefevere might have already told Jakobsen he was the team’s sprinter for the Tour, but, as Cavendish is well aware of, there is no one in the sport more ruthless than the Quick-Step boss. This means that even as things currently stand, Cavendish’s chance at the all-time Tour stage win record, and in turn, his destiny, still lies almost solely in his own hands.
Will Cavendish be laughing in July?
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #