Mark Cavendish is riding the Giro d’Italia because his team are not planning to take him to the Tour de France. Correction, they are not currently planning to take him to the Tour de France.
Because while Fabio Jakobsen might be the first-string sprinter in the eyes of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl management, that is not a status carved in stone tablet. It is at best an entry in a cell of a spreadsheet, as erasable as these words here.
And while Cavendish heads to Sicily to continue racing against (and beating) the very best sprinters in the world, on primetime TV, Jakobsen will this week be riding the second-string race that is the Tour de Hongrie, against the likes of Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers) Jon Aberasturi (Trek Segafredo) and Olav Kooij (Jumbo Visma). Dylan Groenewegen (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) too, of course, but the Dutchman has not taken a WorldTour victory in more than two years.
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Lest we imagine otherwise, when it comes to his team selections, as well as the contracts he negotiates with his employees, Patrick Lefevere is not known for being a sentimental. That is the most straightforward explanation for why his teams have always won as much and as consistently as they have.
That, in turn is why he has maintained such a strong grip over the sporting direction of the Belgian outfit.
Cavendish’s success at the Tour last year was astonishing but it was not entirely possible to accurately measure the magnitude of his performances.

'It's number 16!' - Mark Cavendish wins Stage 3 of the Giro

Any rider can only beat those others who show up, but it could be argued that, in no small part due to Caleb Ewan’s stage four crash, as well as a few other lucky breaks, he was not in a position to prove himself against the very best sprinters sprinting at their very best. From what Lefevere has seen of them both, it could be argued that there would be greater risk associated with taking Cavendish to the Tour de France this year, than Jakobsen.
With not only the fact of today’s victory but the remarkable manner of it, Cavendish’s must have quantifiably reduced, in the eyes of Lefevere, that risk. He was bold. He lit up the stage. Meanwhile, Caleb Ewan was nowhere; Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ) were both outpaced and outclassed. One victory from one opportunity on the biggest stage of the season so far.
In contrast Jakobsen could destroy the competition at the 2.1 rated Hungarian Tour, taking three or even four stages, and yet still see his star decline, relative to that of Cavendish.
It may not be enough to see him slip from the team’s No. 1 spot, but it could be sufficient to increase the pressure, or even make it a coin-flip between the pair.

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There is, undoubtedly, a heavy dose of Anglo-centric wishful thinking associated with this take. There is even more embedded when Robbie McEwen and Adam Blythe say similar, the latter being a close friend of Cavendish. None of us have anything against Jakobsen, who has a very special story of his own. We simply want to see Cavendish make it 35 Tour wins. We want him to make history. Again.
It is astonishing that it is still possible he could.
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