Mark Cavendish has revealed he was ready to retire at the end of 2020 if he hadn't received a one-year contract to ride with Deceuninck-QuickStep.
The Manxman made the assertion in his latest autobiography, which has been serialised this weekend in The Times.
Cavendish endured a miserable three seasons between 2018-2020 as recurrent health issues resulted in a relative lack of form.
Despite being given a chance to prove his worth by Rod Ellingworth at Bahrain McLaren last season, Cavendish failed to rack up any wins and was told by his former mentor that the team wouldn't be offering him a new deal.
That news manifested itself in an emotional interview the 34-time Tour de France stage winner gave after the Ghent-Wevelgem race where he broke down in tears, seemingly unknowing when asked by the presenter where his future lay.
That response prompted several teams to offer him a ride for 2021 but Cavendish insisted he only had eyes for one team, irrespective of whether they could actually afford him.
He wrote: "To each I replied with a variation on the same message: I really appreciated them wanting me, but I needed to speak to Patrick [Lefevere - CEO of Deceuninck-QuickStep]. In fact, I realised, whatever soul-searching had taken place over the previous few hours had brought me to a stark conclusion: it was either Patrick and Deceuninck-QuickStep or I stopped racing,”
Cavendish had ridden for Deceuninck-QuickStep for three hugely successful seasons between 2013-2015 and was desperate to make his return. Yet upon meeting with Lefevere in person, the Belgian told him that while he would be welcomed back into the fold with open arms, the team had no budget to pay his wages and that Cavendish would have to bring a sponsor with him to essentially pay for his place.
“Pay me minimum wage,” I blurted, without letting him finish. “It’s not about the money, because that’ll come when I win for you.”
Patrick smiled apologetically. “Mark, I have one spot in the team . . . but no money. Not even to pay the minimum wage.”
Cavendish did as he was asked and the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to win four stages at the 2021 Tour de France which drew him equal with the great Eddy Merckx, and top the race's points classification for only the second time in his career, a decade after his first.
Reflecting on one of the cycling's greatest comebacks, the 36 year old cited his wife Peta as one of his main supporters, yet his criticism of Ellingworth may raise some eyebrows with those who've followed his career from the beginning:
“I can’t claim to have been in a worse position than lots of other people in the last few years, especially since Covid hit," he wrote. "Sports people can get so consumed in our little bubbles that we become selfish. We’ve been lucky because we’ve been able to continue with our lives while so many other people have been dealing with immense turmoil. However, I’ve been through real hell in recent years. People who were always there for me disappeared. Even Rod, the guy who was my confidant for 20 years, stopped believing in me.”
“But thankfully there were people who were always there, none more so than my wife. Peta’s a really strong personality, hugely supportive, and she always believed, much more than me sometimes. Peta pushed me on as I battled with illness, misdiagnosis, injuries, depression, loss of form. I know it might sound like bravado, but I honestly feel that if I can come back from setbacks like I’ve had, anyone can."
And as a true scholar of the sport, Cavendish is acutely aware of reputation he's garnered, and the mark (pardon the pun) he wants to leave when he does eventually call time on his glittering career:
"Securing my legacy was the primary reason that I carried on racing this year. I knew I still had it in me, just as I knew that every year I kept racing and didn’t win was damaging that legacy.”
What you you make of Cavendish's comments about Rod Ellingworth, and do you think he'll be able to rack up more wins at the Tour de France next season to make the record his own?