Is Mark Cavendish already a legend?
Pushed for time to tell a story on television, succinct soundbites are a gift. Brian Holm, sports director for the HTC-Highroad cycling team, delivers one with the final words of his interview.
We are discussing Mark Cavendish, road cycling's supremely talented Manx sprinter, who begins his fifth Tour de France campaign next week. Earlier this year, we spent two days with him and his HTC team in Belgium.
Holm, a Danish former pro, clears his throat a final time. With the air of a doting grandfather, he looks me in the eye and says: "He is already a legend."
Holm and his HTC colleagues do not see the enigma in 26-year-old Cavendish that others do. Despite 15 Tour de France stage wins in the last three years - almost unparalleled in the sport - Cavendish sometimes seems known in Britain only as a spiky personality. Irritable, outspoken, even selfish.
When he received an MBE earlier this month, somebody on Twitter said they didn't know why: "The stories I've heard don't make him sound like a team player." Cavendish, a sigh audible in his typing, replied: "And I drown kittens."
Reporters have spent years sitting down with Cavendish, trying to get inside his mind and define a man whose success has yet to make him a household name in the UK.
Cavendish is doing a better job of it via Twitter, possibly surprising a few with links to Huffington Post articles, a Father's Day message to his dad signed with a kiss, friendly jibes at his Team Sky rivals and praise for the good-natured people of Newcastle.
He isn't inclined to open up like that with cameras rolling. Why should he? As he often tries to make clear, being famous is about the last thing he wants.
"The reason I do this sport is because I want to win," he says. "I love the sport. I'm not in it to be recognised on the street or to earn a bit of money and then retire."
What he wants to do is become a legend. That's where the single-minded, driven Cavendish comes in. But he sees that and fame as very different concepts.
"Imagine there's a book and it just lists the greats of cycling. The greats I grew up watching and reading about," he says, reeling off names like Eddy Merckx, a Belgian considered by many the greatest cyclist in history, and Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France a record seven times in a row from 1999 to 2005.
"I'd like my name written with them. I'd like to leave a legacy in the sport, that's what's important to me. But I'm not going to put myself in the same sentence as any of them."
Holm, however, doesn't blink at doing so. "He can be at the top level for 15 years and I believe he'll be the world champion one day," he says.
"I would love him to beat Eddy Merckx's record, 34 stage wins in the Tour de France. He has just started and already has 15, so that will be a close one."
The next year may put Cavendish firmly on that path. He and his team believe they do more homework than most professional cycling outfits, spending days studying each Tour stage. He has earmarked five or six for this year's event, which begins on 2 July.
If he were to win five - ambitious, but feasible - he would share sixth place in the all-time list of Tour stage wins, with 20 to Merckx's 34, six years before reaching the age of 32 at which Merckx retired.
Beyond the Tour, September's road cycling's World Championships in Copenhagen provide Cavendish, in his words, with his "best chance of winning it since I've been professional".
The flat course suits him. Owning the rainbow jersey which comes with a world title is among cycling's most prestigious honours.
And then there is the Olympics. Cavendish is routinely mentioned as a candidate to win Britain's first gold medal of London 2012 in the men's road race, the day after the opening ceremony, on a similarly favourable course.
Uncommonly among Olympic sports, in road cycling the Games are considered a poor cousin to the World Championships, the Tour and the series of one-day "classic" races. But Cavendish realises its importance for Britain, if not cyclists.
"In terms of being a pro cyclist, the World Championships is an honour that is greatly, greatly admired in the sport," he says.
"The Olympics, being British, is more of a patriotic thing. As a Brit the Olympics are very important, as a cyclist the Worlds are very important."
Holm, more pointedly and dismissively, says: "You can't compare anything to the World Championships. If you can ride for a year in the rainbow jersey, it means everything.
"It's probably nice to be Olympic champion. Like winning Gent-Wevelgem or something."
Perhaps. But, having acrimoniously returned from Beijing 2008 as the only GB track cyclist without a medal - criticising madison team-mate Bradley Wiggins in his subsequent autobiography - Cavendish knows that, rightly or wrongly, Olympic gold medals carry more weight in Britain than cycling's green jerseys.
It may be his reaction to losing out in Beijing that first inspired the view of him as "not a team player". Scraps in races since, accompanied by rash remarks in their aftermath, have not helped. But it's not a Cavendish his current colleagues recognise.
"Mark fights for his team. He appreciates them, he looks after them," says HTC technical director Allan Peiper, an Australian former pro who works alongside Holm managing Cavendish and the others.
"I've seen him do things for his team-mates that in my 30-odd years of pro cycling I've not seen other people do. I know how much of a binding force he is. The thing that's made this team different is synergy - and a lot of that has been created by Mark."
Cavendish, arguably the world's best sprinter, is usually the focal point of the HTC team. On sprint stages where Cavendish stands a chance of winning, the eight other HTC riders have one job: to get man number nine, Cavendish, to the front of the pack when the finish hoves into view. It is then up to Cavendish to explode over the line.
Cavendish has achieved 15 Tour de France stage wins in three years - photo: Getty.
"Without a team I am not that good," he says, smiling at the regularity with which he has to explain this. "The amount of times my team-mates get asked: 'Why do you work hard for someone else to win?' But that's an ignorant thought.
"This isn't a hobby, it's a professional sport and it's commercial. Sponsors pay money to a team for advertising, and the best advertising is a team crossing the line with their hands in the air.
"My job is to cross the line but that's because I'm the best one for the last part. I'm just the ninth part of the machine, and the mechanic, the cook and the other riders have as important a job as I do.
"But with my job comes a lot of responsibility. If everybody does everything right, I'm the one everyone will write or talk about. If things don't go right, I'm the one everybody says has failed."
All the talk now is of Cavendish moving to Team Sky next season as his contract with HTC expires. You get the feeling Holm will be crushed if and when Cavendish leaves.
"Somehow, he's the easiest guy I ever worked with and the most difficult," says the Dane. "He's young, he's just a kid, and he's got enormous pressure from the press and from himself to win all the time.
"Has he changed a lot? Not really. He tells people what he thinks and he still spends a fortune on clothing and cars - except now he has the money, whereas he didn't at the start. But he's polite, he's a gentleman, he's quite clever. I enjoy it. I enjoy every second."