While Mark Cavendish’s absence at the 2019 Tour de France may not come as a surprise to cycling purists and industry insiders in the know, the fallout over his exclusion from the start-list continues to surface with Dimension Data team owner Doug Ryder and performance director Rolf Aldag at odds over the decision.
“Mark is a legend of the race,” said Ryder, while addressing media prior to the Grand Depart in Brussels. “It is sad for the race that he’s not here. We took that into account and spoke to the organizers. We selected a team based on the route and how hard it is this year. It was a team decision.”
Once heralded as the “fastest man on two wheels”, the 34-year-old Brit, also commonly referred to as the “Manx Missile”, has struggled the past two seasons – plagued by crashes and chronic health issues.
Despite having posted no wins this season, and only two in the past two years, Aldag wanted the 2011 road race world champion included in the team’s eight-man squad.
“It’s no secret I wanted him here,” he said. “I think it would suit our strategy but ultimately it’s a team owner decision,” he said.
“It’s within my remit to select the team, which I did and Mark was included, and the team owner has the right to overrule me, which he did.”
With 30 Tour stage wins, just four shy of five-time race winner Eddy Merckx’s record of 34, Cavendish claimed he was “heartbroken” after being denied his 13th straight Tour start since making his debut in 2007.
“As I have done for my entire career, I targeted a specific time to be at peak form. This has pretty much always resulted in me hitting my goals or coming damn close,” he said.
“I feel I was in the perfect place.”
Cavendish’s Dimension Data team-mate Steve Cummings said on Friday it was a “big call” to leave out the sprinter. Cavendish’s wife Peta sprung to the defence of her husband on Saturday, saying on Twitter “The truth always comes out in the end. Cowards can’t hide forever."
This week, which also included his lead-out Mark Renshaw's plans to retire at the end of the season, Cavendish “cheered himself up” by going for a ride with a young fan who was sad not to be able to watch his hero on the television at this year’s race.
After riding with Evan Llewellyn in Mansfield, Cavendish said on Twitter: “It was an absolute pleasure, Evan! Couldn’t bear to see you sad.
“I knew a bike ride would cheer us both up!”