Sam Bennett is hoping to learn from Mark Cavendish as the sprint legend rejoined the Deceuninck-QuickStep team.
Cavendish spent much of last season fearing his time in the peloton was coming to a close but now the 35-year-old is back with the team where he won 44 races between 2013 and 2015.
His role this time around is certain to be different given Deceuninck-QuickStep’s options, as he sat alongside Bennett, the winner of the green jersey in last year’s Tour de France, at the team presentation.
The Carrick-on-Suir rider is targeting a return to the Tour this year alongside the ‘Sprinter’s Classic’ – Milan-Sanremo – early in the season, but knows there is plenty he can learn from a team-mate with 30 Tour stage wins to his name.
“It’s how to approach it mentally and deal with pressure,” Bennett said. “He’s a guy that’s dealt with expectation. He’s a guy, if he came away with two stages in one Grand Tour people would say it’s a bad Grand Tour for him so he set the bar really high for himself.
“So just learn from his experience, his mindframe and how he approaches the big races.
“I don’t know if I can top 2020, which was such an incredible season, but I would like to get some more stages at Le Tour, especially as this year’s parcours is more sprinter-friendly. I would also like to get a one-day World Tour win, it’s something that’s missing from my palmares and I hope to tick it off this year.
“I had a good winter, the training camp is going very well so far, the condition is building and the confidence is there, so hopefully things will continue in that direction and we’ll soon be in action.”
Bennett is part of a generation of sprinters including Wout van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani and others which has been called cycling’s best.
Cavendish is perhaps no longer in their bracket, but his reaction to being asked to assess the competition revealed a man just happy to still be in the peloton.
“I’ve not got a clue what they’re like because I was never close to them in the last year to see!” he joked.
“From a fans’ perspective, it’s good. I can tell you from a rider’s perspective, when you’re not in the mix, it’s not so good but hopefully that can change this year.
“Whether I’m sprinting for the win or helping one of the lads win, I’m up for that opportunity right now.”
Cavendish insists his Deceuninck return is not about finding a fairytale ending to his career but the Manxman wants to keep racing for as long as he can perform at the top level.
Having gone almost three years since his last victory amid some well-documented struggles, Cavendish knows there will be no repeat of those numbers in his second spell, but his motivations are different.
“If I think I am going to win six stages of the Tour de France I’m in fairyland.
“I am a realist. I am not looking to hang on to something or finish my career in any fairytale way. I just know that I’m still good.”
Cavendish spent last year with Bahrain-McLaren but, as the team felt the financial squeeze of the pandemic, he was not offered a new deal.
Amid the uncertainty, a tearful Cavendish wondered if his time was up after Gent-Wevelgem in October, but said the response to that moment reassured him there was more to come – even if public confirmation of his contract did not come until early December.
“Straightaway, even the same day, I started to receive communications from teams,” Cavendish said. “I could sit and talk about situations and circumstances but ultimately there was really only one place I wanted to come.”
Deceuninck-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere was among those to chime in after Gent-Wevelgem.
The Belgian wrote in a newspaper column that “my heart says yes but my mind says no” on a return for Cavendish, but ultimately, the heart won out.
“I think he deserves to have a good season and not to end like Mr Nobody,” Lefevere said on Wednesday. “With his palmares, his charisma, he deserves a place in the team.”