We’ve finally got there: after all the seemingly interminable twists and turns regarding which team Mark Cavendish would end up joining for 2023, this Friday at the Muscat Classic and then from Saturday onwards in the Tour of Oman, the Briton is finally back down to the racing business again.
It barely matters, in one sense, that Cavendish’s first race of the 2023 season, the Muscat Classic, is likely too hilly for him in the finale to have a huge chance of winning.
The moment when the 37-year-old heads to the sign-on of the brand-new Omani one-day race will feel almost like the long-awaited end of a career chapter, rather than the much-anticipated start of another. Such has been the long-running saga that started last summer – the collage of events of the past few months which has seen the rise and collapse of the B&B Hotels project, the rumours regarding where he might go, and his last-minute signing with Astana Qazaqstan.
But the start of a new chapter in Cavendish’s career on Friday will likely prove to be one with an importance that can’t be underestimated. After all the Muscat Classic and the five-day Tour of Oman are where the 2023 road to the Tour de France and the bid for the 35th (or more) stage victory begins to take a definitive shape and the point where Cavendish’s signing for Astana Qazaqstan could start to bear fruit for real.
Cavendish observed recently that “the goal is winning. Not one particular win, it’s winning,” and such is his status among the greats of the sport that any success will be automatically amplified no matter the category of the race. However, prior to July at least, it’ll be hard not to view those results outside the context of how well they might bode for his chances in the Tour, too.
With all that in mind, are there any reference points for 2023 we can take from Cavendish’s career in the past, given he’s now entering its 18th season? Interestingly, when the Manxman took his first stage of the Tour of Oman back in 2011, blasting along the Muscat seafront for the 63rd pro win of his career, it had also followed a turbulent few weeks in his career.
‘Crashes and the resulting injuries had undermined his chances’ at Qatar and the Tour Down Under Cyclingnews reported from Oman at the time. That was after his win in Muscat, putting him on the right track to one of his most memorable seasons of all time, with a first Tour green jersey and a Road World Championships title in Denmark two huge moments in his career.
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