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Sean Kelly knows a thing or two when it comes to the sprints of the Tour de France, having won five stages and four green jerseys during a glittering career that spanned three decades.
The Irishman, who now commentates for Eurosport, might have a vault of experience and know-how but that doesn’t mean he has all the answers dialed in, especially when it comes to who Patrick Lefevere should definitively pick as his prime sprinter for the Tour de France.
The growing consensus is that Lefevere will take Fabio Jakobsen to the race in July and leave a disappointed Mark Cavendish at home. Cavendish is tied with Eddy Merckx on 34 Tour de France stage wins and needs just one more to set the all-time record but at 37 this could be his best chance before time eventually catches up with him.
“It’s a good place to be for the team but also a problem because the question is who do you take. That’s in normal circumstances but with Patrick Lefevere nothing is normal. He’s going to go with Jakobsen for sure, because he’s the younger rider but it’s a tough one,” Kelly told VeloNews from his home in Ireland.
“For Cavendish it’s a tough one for sure because it’s a disappointment to not go to the Tour de France and try and beat the record but you can read and see that if Lefevere takes Cavendish it can be a problem. Even if you make a deal and take Cavendish and say he can go for a stage but then work for the team, what happens if he doesn’t win a stage? We all know Cavendish, and he can become difficult. It’s a delicate one but if I should say who Lefevere should take, then I would have to say Jakobsen. He’s the one who has been performing all year, and he’s the reliable one.”
Cavendish certainly hasn’t had a bad season in 2022 and it’s easy to forget just how dominant he was in 2021 when he won four stage wins and almost beat Merckx’s record on the final day of the Tour. This season Cavendish has won a stage of the Giro d’Italia, won Milan-Torino and taken two other victories but Jakobsen has been consistently strong, winning nine times to Cavendish’s five.
Jakobsen is also tied to the team for the long-term and is obviously younger. Lefevere has talked about those points at length in the media over the last few months.
“Cavendish isn’t as dominant as he was at the Tour last year,” said Kelly.
“He had a really good run of form last year, and circumstances with other sprinters crashing out, that was the luck of the game. He still had to win his stages and what he did was amazing. He was able to win on his own, and that’s Cavendish but for him it’s a disappointing one because if he doesn’t go this year then time is running out. Where will he go for next year? What team? All of that is on his mind, surely.”
“I wouldn’t say that this is his last chance but with each year it gets more difficult. With Quick-Step, if he can go to the Tour, then the chance of getting a stage is quite good. Not going this year just makes it more complicated. It’s another year, he’s getting older, and what team will he be on? Will he have a team with a good leadout? There are a pile of questions there with no answers.”
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Kelly also believes that coming so close to Merckx’s record must now play on Cavendish’s mind, especially given the fact that the British rider looked like he would never come close to it following four years of poor form, illness and team moves.
“For Cavendish, he’s so close to the record, and it’s very achievable to get a stage win in the team that he’s in now. As a rider, at this point in your career, he might say that the palmares are just numbers but in the back of your mind the bell rings a bit louder. To have the most stage wins in the Tour de France, everyone would love to break that record, but very few even get near to it. He’s so close and not being able to have the opportunity to go for it, it’s not a good one for your head. If you go for it, and you fail you can understand, but now he’s not having an opportunity to go for it.”