After signing Mark Cavendish for the 2021 season, Deceuninck-QuickStep directeur sportif Tom Steels is hoping the team can help the Manxman enjoy racing again but are not placing outsized expectations on him.
Speaking to Sporza, Steels expressed his confidence in Cavendish. "I have no doubt he still has the ability to win races," Steels said.
"Mark has had a few bad years. On a sporting level, we will have to rebuild step by step. I think we should first of all make sure that he can enjoy racing again."
Since leaving Etixx-Quickstep for Dimension Data and then Bahrain McLaren, Cavendish has had several tough years spent recovering from the Epstein Barr virus. He was finally cleared of the virus in 2019 but was controversially left off Dimension Data's roster for the Tour de France. He didn't make this year's Grand Tour selections either and looked set to retire before Deceuninck-QuickStep stepped in.
Steels things the team can get Cavendish back on track. "We want to give him the feeling that he is physically back to normal. If he feels good on the bike, we can look at sprints again. I have no doubt that he still has the capacity to win races. But fun on the road is the number one priority.
"Cavendish remains Cavendish: that competitive character is still there and he will also find it with us. He can go along with the ambitions of the team. The fact that there is a fight in every race will please him, he will always be a part of that."
The team is realistic about working with Cavendish, however. He was 30 and still winning Grand Tour stages when he left the team in 2015, but at 35 his best days might well be behind him. Steels is keeping expectations realistic and thinks Cavendish can be a help to the team's other sprinters, like Tour de France green jersey winner Sam Bennett, Alvaro Hodeg and, when he returns, Fabio Jakobsen.
"We don't expect Mark to win six stages in the Tour," Steels said. "There are a lot of other races to get up to speed and then we have an extra sprinter, which gives us more opportunities. He also brings a lot of experience. His specific view on sprinting can be a help for guys like Bennett or Hodeg. When Jakobsen comes back, he will enjoy it, too".
Cavendish brings a lot of personality with him to the team, and Steels said he is looking forward to working with him again.
"Everyone is looking forward to it", Steels knows. "Mark is someone who has always been good to his colleagues. He can be explosive after the race, but very sweet an hour later. Because of his personality he will always contribute something."
Cavendish sent out a video made by the team on Twitter, saying, "To say I'm excited would be an understatement. Incredibly proud to announce an agreement to again join my friends at Deceuninck-Quickstep. I've never hidden how special my time was there, how special the people and atmosphere are and how special the Flemish heart philosophy of pure racing is."
To say I'm excited would be an understatement. Incredibly proud to announce an agreement to again join my friends @deceuninck_qst. I've never hidden how special my time was there, how special the people & atmosphere are & how special the Flemish heart philosophy of pure racing is pic.twitter.com/xJ6gjlijQsDecember 5, 2020