MILAN (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is preparing the way for a possible return to the track for the 2016 Olympics. The Briton will race scratch and Madison events in the International Belgian Open September 6 and 7 in Ghent, Belgium.
The event organizer confirmed Cavendish’s participation to Cycling Weekly last week. He will pair with Owain Doull for the Madison. Any points gained will help him qualify for the UCI’s World Cup events, which could pave the way for Cavendish to return to the world championships and the Olympics on the track.
Cavendish has racked up 106 wins on the road, points jerseys in all three grand tours, 25 Tour de France stage wins, a world title in Copenhagen, and a win in Milano-Sanremo — but something is missing.
He had a golden opportunity to win an Olympic medal last year in London but the race fell out of British control. Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won the race from an escape.
Great Britain won eight cycling gold medals. Bradley Wiggins took the individual time trial on the back of his Tour de France win. Cavendish went home, again, without a medal.
At the 2008 Beijing Games, Cavendish paired with Wiggins in the 50-kilometer Madison. However, Wiggins’ form was slipping after already claiming two pursuit gold medals and the duo could only manage ninth place. Cavendish left Beijing as the only British track cyclist not to earn a medal on the velodrome.
Cavendish said at the time he felt let down by team GB’s focus on the team and individual pursuits. “I’m finished, there’s nothing for me on the track now,” he told Observer Sport Monthly in 2008. “I’ll go to the 2012 Olympics, but on the road.”
At the 2012 Olympics, Cavendish warmed to the track again while watching Great Britain the team pursuit.
“I watched the guys and looked at the camaraderie and thought ‘I want to be part of that again,’” Cavendish told Sky Sports News. “I don’t think a road race would suit me too well around Rio but I’d love an Olympic gold … I’d like to push for a position at Rio in 2016. I’d like to be part of the team pursuit.”
Cavendish’s participation in the International Belgian Open shows that he was not joking last summer and that he is taking the Rio de Janeiro Games seriously. If he qualifies, the 28-year-old would have to compete in several World Cups over the winter. The first event is in Manchester, England, November 1-3. The other two are in December and November, with the world championships in late February/early March in Cali, Colombia — exactly when the road season is heating up.
Cavendish knows what it would take, as he made his name on the track when he won a world title alongside Rob Hayles in 2005. He last seriously raced at the 2009 world championships in Poland.
Cavendish is not the only one considering a return to the boards. Wiggins said recently he would focus on the track to claim a fifth Olympic gold medal in Rio. Cavendish’s decision, however, took some by surprise. Omega Pharma team manager Patrick Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad that he was unaware of his rider’s participation in the International Belgian Open.