Why QuickStep Was Right To Snub Mark Cavendish
QuickStep's decision to leave Mark Cavendish at home during the Tour de France might have sent shockwaves through the sport, but if we examine the facts closely, the decision makes perfect sense
With the Tour de France rapidly approaching, the chatter in the world of cycling is the QuickStep team’s decision to leave recently crowned British Road Race Champion Mark Cavendish at home during the Tour de France. While they also left both World Champion Julian Alaphilippe and French national champion Florian Sénéchal off the team, which I would argue are bigger snubs (even though it would still be a very large ask for Alaphilippe to complete a three-week race after he has just recovered from his long list of injuries sustained at Liège-Bastogne-Liège), Cavendish’s exclusion is particularly notable since it means he won’t have an opportunity to break Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage win record (he just needs a single win to overtake the all-time great) and his future in the sport beyond this season isn’t guaranteed.
Cavendish Looked Great On Sunday, But QuickStep Still Made the Right Call to Leave Him at Home
This announcement might have come as a particular surprise to those who had tuned into the British National Road Race Championships, which Cavendish won with a highly unusual performance that was very similar to the one that netted him his first national title back in 2013, and showed he is on some of the best form of his career.
Instead of simply tucking in behind his QuickStep team and being towed to the final 150 meters before touching the wind, the outnumbered Manxman had to race aggressively from the gun to get out in front of the homegrown Ineos squad. In a criminally oversimplified summation of the race, Cavendish correctly deduced that he needed to bridge up to an early move.
Then doesn’t hesitate to mark moves attacking out of their bloated lead group head into the finale.
And then somewhat oddly, he was given a chariot ride to the line by Sam Watson and Alex Richardson, who perhaps thought the bunch sprinter wasn’t capable of working all day in a lead group. However, when they finally got to the line and were dusted by the best sprinter in the history of the sport, it became clear that he is far from a one-trick pony and instead has a surprisingly wide range of skills while also currently possessing a very high level of fitness.
While some, including Cavendish, thought that this exhibition would convince his QuickStep team to select him for the Tour de France, he was still left on the outside looking in when the Belgian team released their team this morning, which includes Yves Lampaert, Kasper Asgreen, Mattia Cattaneo, Tim Declercq, Andrea Bagioli, Mikkel Frølich Honoré, Fabio Jakobsen, Michael Mørkøv.
This omission might have shocked both the cycling world and Cavendish, but it shouldn’t have. Team Manager Patrick Lefevere told us back in January that their plan was to take a single sprinter and that Fabio Jakobsen would be occupying that role. This is likely due to the fact that over the past four seasons, Jakobsen has been the better rider, and it isn’t even particularly close.
Add in the fact that Cavendish didn’t exactly sparkle at the recent Giro d’Italia and left with only a single stage win meant he was always going to struggle to make the team.
Modern Racing Produces Fewer Bunch Sprints & Demands a More Versatile Roster
For those still struggling to understand the decision, it is worth noting that the 2022 Tour route is so sprinter unfriendly that three of the sport’s other top sprinters, Tim Merlier, Sam Bennett, and Arnaud Démare, will also be left watching the race from home. The powers that be at their respective teams have likely looked at the course, which only offers five likely true bunch sprint stages, and calculated that in this uber-aggressive racing era that demands an absurdly high level of fitness from even the most textbook sprinters, there is little chance of these stages all producing a traditional bunch sprint.
This limited number of chances means that taking two sprinters, especially for a team like QuickStep, which wants to maximize its chances of winning on the largest number of stages, doesn’t make much sense. Instead of bringing two limited and overlapping skillsets, they have chosen to bring Mattia Cattaneo and Andrea Bagioli for a run at a GC top ten/mountain stages, Jakobsen as a sprinter with Mørkøv as his leadout, while the rest of the squad is comprised of highly versatile riders who can win over a large variety of terrain. QuickStep management has read the tea leaves of modern racing and deduced that this model nets them the greatest chance of success.
While Lefevere is a polarizing and at times, obtuse, public figure, one has to acknowledge his undisputed track record of sporting success. After all, no other team can consistently read the future performance of their team members as well as QuickStep, so while this might not be popular and will undoubtedly cause the team to forfeit a massive amount of publicity (it isn’t clear to me that this is necessarily bad for them), it is very likely the correct sporting call.
Luke Lamperti’s Back-to-Back Criterium National Titles Illustrates the USA-Europe Quality Divide
Luke Lamperti, the 19-year-old American, won back-to-back US Criterium Championships over the weekend. This is stunningly impressive, especially when we consider he was going up against juggernaut crit squads Legion and Best Buddies Racing with little team support for himself.
This win, along with his 5th place in the road race national championships on Sunday, shows that Lamperti is a supremely talented rider who likely has a bright future ahead of him. However, his dominance in the US crit scene and a solid finish in the road race also shows the massive divide that currently exists between the level of racing between the USA and Europe.
For example, outside of his 4th place finish on stage 5 at the 2021 Tour of Britain, Lamperti has few notable results at top-rated European races. And while he has performed well at lower-level professional European races so far in 2022 (almost any 19-year-old American would do anything for these results) he is by no means dominating at these events and has yet to notch a victory in a professional road race.
Lamperti 2022 European Race Results
However, whenever he crosses the pond to race in the US, Lamperti is able to dominate the most celebrated US-based criterium racers despite not being a full-time crit racer himself, and finish in the lead group with some of the best full-time professionals in the road race national championships. This is fantastic and impressive for Lamperti, but should also be a signal to the US scene regarding just how large the gulf in the quality of the racing and startlists are between the USA and Europe, and should be confirmation for young American riders that if they want to compete at the highest level of the sport, they need to get to Europe to race as early in their careers as possible (just like Lamperti has done).