Mark Cavendish has backed Chris Froome’s bid to return to competitiveness and said his own experience proved nobody should be written off.
Cavendish’s remarkable resurgence continued last week as he collected his first Tour de France stage wins since 2016, moving to 32 in his career, despite being a late call-up to the Deceuninck-QuickStep squad.
After several years in which he was impacted by illness and injury, fearing his career was over in the winter, Cavendish can empathise with the challenges facing Froome, who is still recovering from a devastating crash in 2019.
Like Cavendish, Froome is racing the Tour for the first time in three years, but the four-time winner sits 153rd in the general classification, one hour and 47 minutes down on race leader Tadej Pogacar.
The 36-year-old knew he would not be competitive this year, but the Israel Start-Up Nation rider retains his dream of pursuing a record-equalling fifth Tour title in the future.
“I can talk from personal experience – you don’t write somebody off,” said Cavendish, also 36. “It’s down to the individual, how long they want to do something and what they feel they can come back to.
“Unless you are that person you can never understand. Chris Froome has been a champion for many years. Very, very few people in the world can get to that level so people will not understand the mindset, and understand the fight to get back…
“Froomey is a friend of mine but even if it was somebody I didn’t like, if I saw somebody being able to suffer physically and mentally to try to come back to somewhere they were and they know where they can get to, I applaud it, it’s the strongest thing you can do.”
Cavendish enjoyed a superb opening week of the Tour, winning stages four and six while moving into the points leader’s green jersey, but like many endured a tough weekend in the mountains.
The Manxman looked emotional as he embraced the team-mates who safely got him to the finish of stage nine into Tignes inside the time cut on Sunday, and admitted he was in great need of Monday’s rest day.
“I can’t remember a first rest day of the Tour de France feeling like a second rest day,” he said. “Everybody is completely spent.”
Beating the time cut is far from a given on stages like Sunday, where the climbing starts immediately and there is little room for stragglers in the grupetto to recover in the valleys.
Sprinters Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard were among seven riders outside the limit, their own Tours now over.
“There’s a common misconception we can’t climb and it’s through lack of training or laziness or a lack of ability to suffer,” Cavendish said.
“Quite contrary, those who are slowest are suffering the most. Our bodies aren’t designed to do that. When you’ve got fast-twitch muscles you’re not designed to go uphill at a steady pace for a long amount of time.
“It takes a different toll on the body and sometimes your muscles just stop working and that’s the hardest thing, to push through that.”
Tuesday’s stage 10 looks much more favourable with 191 relatively flat kilometres between Albertville and Valence on the menu – an opportunity for Cavendish to move to within one stage win of Eddy Merckx’s Tour record of 34, and extend his advantage in green.
“There’s a lot less sprinters (in the race), that’s for sure,” Cavendish said of the impact of a tough opening week.
“We’ve got a strong group with experience who know how to control a race so we just have to hope for the best I guess.”