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Cavendish, like a raft of other riders, was left without a deal for this season after the proposed B&B Hotels project collapsed late November last year. The Manxman was linked to nearly every team in the bunch before he finally signed with Astana last month.
With a potentially record-breaking season on the horizon, Cavendish’s progress this year has been very hotly anticipated — perhaps more so than usual.
While he is well accustomed to the attention of the media and fans, Cavendish just wants to deliver on the bike, like everyone else in the bunch.
“I just want to race. Like every other bike rider, I just want to be on the same level as every bike rider who doesn’t have a story written about them when they haven’t done anything,” Cavendish told the press ahead of the Tour of Oman in Muscat. “I want to be on the same level as every other bike rider: let my legs do the talking of what I do, enjoy riding my bike with my teammates, and be treated as a human being.
“That’s it, that’s all I want, that’s all I’ve ever wanted, to be treated as a human being. Like every other bike rider that is here and in world cycling.”
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Cavendish’s move to Astana has been something of a whirlwind, given the lateness of the B&B Hotels collapse. He first visited the team at the end of its December training camp, before going back in January to ride with his new teammates for the first time.
There has been no team building or get-to-know-you sessions for him and fellow latecomer Cees Bol, but things have slotted into place nicely nevertheless.
“They’ve just been nice. Anywhere you go, I guess if you go somewhere new as a journalist, if you go into a new situation, you’re always going to feel a bit on the outside,” he said. “If you come in and your colleagues embrace you it makes you feel nice straight away, it’s exactly the same as that.
“If you go into your first day of school you can either be nervous and be embrace or be left on the edge and I’ve been embraced really nicely here. It’s great. It’s a nice laugh.”
Most of the talk around Cavendish’s season has been about the Tour de France and the possibility that he could move clear of Eddy Merckx in the all-time stage victory count. However, there is still a whole season to figure out around it.
Plans are still being curated at the moment, but Cavendish is getting his season underway in Oman this week. He didn’t finish the one-day Muscat challenge after he, and many other sprinters, were dropped before the finale, but there will be some other chances for him to test his form and maybe get a win on the board.
“I should be racing in Belgium at some point; we’re still ebbing and flowing on what my program is at the moment and how I start,” Cavendish said. “I feel OK, but obviously it’s the same as every year: if you feel OK, so does everyone else, so you don’t see anything until you start racing.
“I’m happy to start here in Oman, there are not many if any sprint opportunities but it’s a good place to prepare my race fitness and get to know the guys. There is more than just a sprint team in Astana, so to get to know each other properly it’s actually a very good place to do that here – it’s a good race to be able to do that.”
The Tour of Oman will also be an opportunity to test his new leadout and how it may work as the season goes on. With Cavendish and Bol taking up the final two spots on the team, there was no room for Astana to bring in other options to support the sprinters.
Bol is not racing in Oman, but there are a few other potential candidates for his new train in the Arabian Gulf state.
It’s a work in progress but Cavendish feels like the team has the right ideas.
“We haven’t really needed to have such an open conversation [about program or team selection], it just seems that we’re on the same page. A fundamental part is that I don’t have to prove myself,” he said. “Picking and choosing riders is not something I’ve really ever done anyway. Astana actually has an incredibly strong team. For sure the sprints are very new to the team but with how they race.
“If I didn’t believe what they had here, I wouldn’t be at the team. It’s a very, very good team.”