Mark Cavendish was back racing his bike at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday and reiterated his desire to ride on into 2021.
On Sunday, the 35-year-old had tearfully contemplated the possible end of his remarkable career, suggesting after Gent-Wevelgem that it might have been his final outing.
But far from indicating an imminent retirement, the Manxman was instead trying to process the dual uncertainty of his contract situation and the final weeks of a racing calendar which remains in peril as coronavirus cases increase across Europe.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s race, Cavendish – out of contract this winter – insisted he was not looking to stop just yet.
“I don’t have the desire to stop, I don’t want to stop,” the former world champion said. “I love this sport, I’ve given my life to this sport. I’d like to keep riding my bike. That’s it really…
“It’s nice to be here, I got my first professional win here in 2007, and to see the race go on. I’m super happy to be here.”
When Cavendish spoke on Sunday, there were rumours that Scheldeprijs – already redesigned to take place entirely within Belgium on a circuit around Schoten – might follow the likes of this weekend’s Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix in being cancelled.
But the race went ahead and the 30-time Tour de France stage winner made himself prominent by getting in an eight-man breakaway until dropping back to the peloton with 35 kilometres left.
As he did so, he was warmly applauded by spectators along the roadside, where the message “Thanks Cav” had been painted in large letters – just in case the end is nearing.
The hope remains that it is not, with Bahrain-McLaren team principal Rod Ellingworth having said last week that talks are ongoing with the team’s roster for 2021 not yet complete. Ellingworth, Cavendish’s long-time coach, had said he expected Cavendish to race next year.
Caleb Ewan took the race win, with Ireland’s Sam Bennett – preparing to start the Vuelta a Espana next week – settling for eighth place as he was boxed in for the final sprint.
Bahrain-McLaren have yet to announce their team for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, but it is expected Cavendish could line up for both that and next week’s AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.