Cavendish was overlooked for the Tour despite winning four stages to draw level with Eddy Merckx’s all-time record (34) and the green jersey last year, with Quick-Step instead naming Fabio Jakobsen as their sprinter. Jakobsen is also plotting one of the sport’s great comebacks after fighting back from devastating injuries suffered at the 2020 Tour of Poland.
The Manx Missile, who won a stage at the Giro d’Italia and stormed to the British title last week, said he only found out about his non-selection via social media.
“For him not to come to the Tour was cruel,” said Stephens.
“I think the manner in which he found out about his non-selection was, I’ll be honest, disgraceful.
“Any rider who isn’t picked for the Tour should be told on a phone call in my opinion. He’s done so much for that team. This is his second stint at the team.
“He is driven. He’s 37 and looks stronger and leaner than ever. It’s a shame he’s not here, but the dignity with which he’s carried himself after that decision is exemplary and he can hold his head high.
“There’s going to be a lot more wins to come for Mark.”
Cavendish is chasing a new contract for 2023 as he looks to extend his career and return to the Tour.
“What he brings to that team just with his presence… there are plenty of teams who would have him at this race and get success,” said 2012 Tour champion Bradley Wiggins.
“None of it makes sense. I think he’s taken it really well. I think he’s shown what a champion he is. I almost feel like he’s got a new lease of life, he’s got a couple more years in him now.”
Another notable absentee from the Quick-Step team is Julian Alaphilippe.
The world champion, who has been a stage winner in the past four editions of the Tour, only returned to racing last week after his recovery from a big crash at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
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