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We are Gnomes R Us!! Mark Cavendish’s decision to continue racing for another season and battle to try to break Eddy Merckx’s all-time record for Tour de France stage wins is not just excellent news for Astana Qazaqstan but also for the sport in general, says team manager Alexander Vinokourov.

The British sprinter was due to retire at the end of the season, but having crashed out of the Tour de France this summer and broken his collarbone, Astana officially confirmed that he would instead race on for another year.

Cavendish will now return to racing in the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey, but depending on his condition after such a long spell away will either be riding for wins himself or to support the team’s other contenders, Vinokourov told Cyclingnews.

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As for 2024, the team have yet to decide on a specific race program other than the Tour. But Vinokourov also said he expects some changes in Cavendish’s training schedule as well, with a spell at altitude camp, possibly in Colombia, quite likely to be on the books. The key thing, as Vinokourov said, is that Cavendish is back racing and ready to fight on.


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“When I talked to Mark after his accident, I said I believed that crashing out like that was no way for a champion as big as him to end his career," Vinokourov told Cyclingnews

“I proposed to him to go on and do another year, do a last Tour de France and he spent a good while thinking it through. He talked to his family, of course, but the decision to go on for another year is wonderful news, both from a sponsorship point of view, but also for the sport itself.”

Every cloud has a silver lining and one big advantage for Astana Qazaqstan and Cavendish Vinokourov says, is that they will have much more time to plan out the following season. In 2022, Cavendish's signing was very much last-minute and they could barely contract any more riders beyond the Briton himself. 

In stark contrast, the news on Wednesday that Cavendish's former leadout man Michael Mørkøv and Soudal-QuickStep trainer Vasilis Anastopoulos will both be joining the squad, the latter as head of performance, felt very much like a boosted statement of intent concerning Astana's desire to help Cavendish take Tour de France stage win number 35 in 2024.

“Already after the Tour we talked with Mark and we said we’d do the maximum to try and change things,” Vinokourov said. “This year in the Tour, we were lacking a last man in the sprints.

“But in the future, we’ve got Cees Bol,[Yevgeni] Fedorov, [Alexey] Lutsenko and [new signing Davide] Ballerini as riders who will be able to go on playing a solid role for us” - at the time of speaking, new signing Michael Mørkøv had not been officially confirmed, but he would surely form part of that equation as well - “not just in the Tour, but in the Classics as well.”

The desire to move on from the 2023 season and look ahead is strong, Vinokourov says. “We had a lot of sickness in the team, guys crashing out and so on. Not much you can do under those circumstances, but it’s true it was a bit of a catastrophe for us.” 

One of the few, very major, bright spots came in the Giro d’Italia, Vinokourov says, when Cavendish scored Astana’s biggest victory of the season on the last day of the race.  And there can be little doubt that much of the team’s main focus for 2024 will once again be on what Cavendish can achieve.

“It’s true that win gave him a lot of confidence,” Vinokourov says. “And in the Tour, we had some real near-misses before he crashed out. I hope that’ll motivate him again.”

“Like I said to Mark, if your head’s still in it, then the rest of you is still in it. If you want to do another season, you can. It’s what your head tells you that matters.”

Cavendish will ride the Tour of Türkiye (October 8 - 15) but as Vinokourov says “It’s mostly because he needs to finish the year with a race in his legs. If he does that, then the following year he’ll be quicker getting into form.

“It’s maybe not for winning, but to help [sprinter Gleb] Syritsa or Cees Bol, maybe even if Andrey Lutsenko goes for the GC, he’s got good form.

“Then we’ll look at next season late on, we’re doing a team-building camp on October 19 and October 20 and there we’ll decide. But there will be some changes in the training schedule compared to this year. We’ll be doing some things differently.”

Vinokourov has no idea, he says, whether Cavendish will return to the Giro, “but he’ll likely do more training camps at altitude. It’ll be important to build for the start of the season as well as the Tour de France. We’ve been talking about maybe doing a camp in Colombia, we’ll see.”

As for beyond 2024, come 2025 Vinokourov strongly hopes that Cavendish will continue to play a role within the team. Various projects have been floated in the media, including a sprint development team but as Vinokourov says, nothing has yet been decided and various options are on the table.

At the same time, a quest for a second sponsor for the team remains a key part of his future goals as well. But with Cavendish firmly on board for next season, 2024's main sporting aim is now more than clear.

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