Mark Cavendish is about to start his 15th season at WorldTour level but he appeared almost as enthusiastic and emotional as a neo-pro rider during the Deceuninck-QuickStep team presentation on Wednesday, insisting he is still motivated and still in love with the sport despite battling with mononucleosis for several years and despite 2021 perhaps being the final season of his long career.
"I’m a realist. I’m not looking to hang on to something or try to finish my career as I want to in a fairytale way. I just know I’m still good," he said during the Belgian team’s virtual media day in Spain.
Cavendish's natural bullishness was tempered by realism but it was clear he is happy to still be racing in 2021. There was no talk of breaking Eddy Merckx's Tour de France stage win record.
"If I thought I wanted to go and win six stages at the Tour de France, I’m in fairytale land and it makes it even less likely if you come to the strongest team in the world who have dominated," he pointed out.
"But even if I’m not winning, I think I can still add something to this team. Last time I added to them and they added something to me. So why not join them if it’s my last year or if I’ve got 10 more years in me?
"Ultimately, I was at my happiest when I was here and the opportunity to come back and race for Deceuninck-QuickStep is a dream - if I do one month more or 10 years more."
Cavendish was almost in tears after last year’s Gent-Wevelgem in late October, fearing his professional career could be over. However, his emotions sparked interest from several teams and he eventually struck a deal with Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere to return to the team where he raced between 2013 and 2015.
A lack of extra team budget sparked suggestions that Cavendish was ready to ride for free to secure a place at Deceuninck-QuickStep. He and the team have never revealed their contract terms but the likes of bike sponsor Specialized seem happy Cavendish is on the team, while the Manxman made it clear he pushed for a deal because he simply didn’t want to race for anyone else.
"There was really only one place I wanted to go," he said.
"The best part of my career was at this team. I tried something else but in hindsight, I wish I’d stayed here my whole career. I have an incredible rapport with the team and staff and sponsors, especially with Specialized. I helped develop the Venge. It was a bike made for me and I proved it was the best bike for me to win on."
Deceuninck-QuickStep have Tour de France green points jersey winner Sam Bennett as lead sprinter plus Colombian Alvaro Hodeg, while Fabio Jakobsen is slowly recovering from his horrific crash at the Tour de Pologne.
Cavendish is unsure of his race programme and knows opportunities for sprinters are becoming fewer and fewer. Yet he is just happy to be in Deceuninck-QuickStep's new blue colours.
"Like many riders, I just like to race. Before that, I hope the world gets back to some kind of normality and that people stay safe. I know the vaccine is coming now and being distributed, so we can get back to normal," he said wisely.
"I feel the same as the Belgian fans: I live and breathe it (cycling), so I just feel at home at Deceuninck-QuickStep.
"Cycling has been my life for as long as I can remember and always will be. We don’t know how long that is on the bike or off the bike but for now I just want to keep enjoying racing and thankfully in a Deceuninck jersey this year."