It’s no surprise to see Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-McLaren) among the big names featuring in the star-studded start list of the second edition of the UAE Tour (February 23-29), the third event of the 2020 UCI WorldTour after the opening events held in Australia. The sprinting legend is used to racing – and shining – in the desert and this season is no exception as the Manxman returns to the United Arab Emirates with a new team and fresh ambitions.
“Originally, I planned to stay here for the whole month of February, with the Saudi Tour, the Tour of Oman and the UAE Tour,” Cavendish told us in Riyadh. “It would have been a good month in sunshine, with a lot of sprint opportunities, with a lot of crosswinds, in a place I know really well. With the unfortunate death of His Majesty the Sultan of Oman, we’re missing this race in the middle of February so I return to Europe for a training camp to prepare for the UAE.”
The UAE Tour will be the 20th race Mark Cavendish tackles in the area. He’s participated five times in the defunct Tour of Qatar (and won the overall classification twice to go along with 9 stage victories) and won the silver medal in the 2016 UCI Road World Championships held in Doha. He didn’t miss a single edition of the Dubai Tour (5 participations between 2014 and 2018, overall winner in 2015). He rode the Tour of Oman (1 stage win) and the Abu Dhabi Tour (3 stage wins) three times each and is ready for a second participation in the UAE Tour, born in 2019 with the merging of the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours.
#RideAsOne with Bahrain-McLaren
The first edition of the Saudi Tour at the beginning of February offered Mark Cavendish exactly what he looks for in the Arabian desert. Furthermore, he tackled the early-season challenge with new teammates: “Ultimately crosswinds play the biggest factor here and that’s not just a good launchpad to put you in a good form for the Classics and the rest of the year, they’re races I enjoy doing,” the Manxman explains. “There’s a lot more than just being strong, you have to be tactically good, technically good, and the most important part is to ride well as a team.”
Although Cavendish didn’t win a stage in the Saudi Tour, he still celebrated victories with his fists held high and a huge grin on his face as he led out his partner Phil Bauhaus to two stage victories and the overall triumph. In Saudi Arabia, the 30-time Tour de France stage winner showed other facets of his leadership and quickly cemented his role as a road captain for his new Bahrain-McLaren team, who claims to “#RideAsOne” on social media. We also saw him feature in a brief breakaway attempt on Stage 5.
“Now we need to deliver the results”
Now Cavendish will aim to add his own victories to the collective tally with four sprinting opportunities and some proper climbing challenges ahead of him in the UAE Tour. “At the UAE Tour we’ll be looking for results with Mark but we’re also coming with climbers to fight for the GC with Wout Poels,” says Sports Director, Vladimir Miholjević. “The level will be higher because it’s WorldTour so it will be interesting.”
Miholjević coordinated Bahrain-McLaren’s training camps ahead of the season. “We’ve built this group [with Phil Bauhaus, Marcel Sieberg, Heinrich Haussler, Grega Bole…] to support Mark on the future races and to give him full support on the sprints,” he explains. “We're happy with Mark's condition and with the way the team is racing. We’ve been working on this since the early training camps and now we need to deliver the results.”
After battling with illness linked to the Epstein-Barr virus over recent years, Mark Cavendish now wants to show that, at 34 years old, he still has what it takes to sprint his way to victory, two years after his last win, on Stage 3 of the 2018 Dubai Tour. “An early victory gives confidence to the team, to the riders, and then everything comes easier in the later phases of the season,” Miholjevic highlights. “That victory is the only missing piece in the puzzle for Mark.”