Mark Cavendish sits behind only Eddy Merckx in career Tour de France stage wins, amassing 30 to his name throughout his storied career in the sport. He is regarded as one of the best sprinters of all time.
For a rider of his quality, an exit from the sport would have been unthought of just a few years ago, he won 10 races in 2016 and looked one of the best sprinters in the world. Struggles with Epstein-Barr virus since then have seen the Manxman lose form.
Cavendish raced with the Belgian team for three-season between 2013 and 2015, some of the most productive in his career as he amassed 44 wins in his time at the team.
Lefevre spoke to Cyclingnews about the process of bringing Mark Cavendish into the successful outfit.
"My heart said yes and my brain said no," said Lefevre. "It’s a risk but he brings a lot to the team. He’s still very famous and we’ve only had positive reactions on Twitter.
"I’m happy everyone is happy and I’m glad that he has this chance. I don't think that he deserved to stop cycling in the way he did his last races."
Cavendish broke down in tears after Gent-Wevelgem, confirming that it might be the final race of his career when asked by reporters. He subsequently did compete in a few races, finishing in De Panne, but it was clear that Cavendish was going to have trouble getting a contract next year.
"After the last race in De Panne," said Lefevre, "he was at the hotel in Kortrijk and I invited him to my office and he said: 'I don’t want to stop like this. I want to come back.' I told him, 'Mark I really don’t have one Euro. My budget is already done."
"He said that if he could find someone to pay his contract then he could ride. I maybe believed that he could join us but that it would be difficult to find someone, but a week later someone called and said that they’d spoken to Mark and that they were interested. We started talking and in the end, it happened."
Personal sponsors paying a rider's salary used to be more common within cycling, with riders either bringing sponsors with them to a team, or third-party sponsors making arrangements with riders that get incorporated into the team's arrangements with a rider.
Cavendish has had sponsors in the past, not a personal sponsor, but a sponsor that developed into a team sponsorship with luxury watchmaker Richard Mille a friend and sponsor of Cavendish, before extending that sponsorship to Cavendish's Bahrain-McLaren team, though there are also connections with the brand's long-time association with motorsport.
Lefervre was realistic about Cavendish's chances to return to his best world-beating form, but said he thought there was a lot he could bring to the squad.
"He has a long and sad story about Epstein Barr and all those different complaints,' said Lefevre of Cavendish's recent struggles. "He has a chance now that nobody else wanted to give him but, for me, he starts at zero. We’ll take him for his experience but, to be clear, he’s not a trainer. He’s not a performance manager or a directeur sportif but he can bring some experience to the guys.
"He’s the best sprinter of his generation so he can give some tips to the young guys like Alvaro Hodeg, Fabio Jakobson, who was almost the best sprinters in the world, and Sam Bennett, who is strong and fast but sometimes has doubts about himself. In this sort of situation, Mark can be helpful and if he can win a race again that would be great."