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Consistent Cav, an exceptional talent

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Matt Slater | 08:55 UK time, Monday, 18 July 2011

Jeff Powell was on BBC Radio 5 live several days ago talking about David Haye's defeat by Wladimir Klitschko, a total embarrassment for British sport that pushed the veteran Daily Mail sports writer into full rant mode: Andy Murray, English football and Mark Cavendish, who had just finished fifth in the Tour de France's first bunch sprint. Losers, all of them.

Two days later, Cavendish won the race's fifth stage, delivering the perfect riposte to those who say he can't win without being delivered to the line by his team or when the finish isn't pancake flat.

But most of all he silenced the "ignoramuses" who wrote him off.

OK, I am being unfair. Powell is one of Britain's best boxing writers and his appraisal of Haye's hapless shift in Hamburg was knockout stuff. And neither can he really be blamed for stretching his argument about British inadequacy at the highest level to include the admirable but not-quite-good-enough Murray and England's self-evidently second-rate footballers.

But Powell's throwaway remark about Cavendish had me shaking my head at the radio.

When will they learn?

Cav's not the like the rest of them. He is an anomaly, a British sportsman who beats the best in the world, when it really matters, again and again and again.

Name another home-grown hero/heroine who has been so good for so long? Wayne Rooney? Nearly. Jess Ennis? Maybe next year. Alastair Cook? Let's see how he goes against India. Chrissie Wellington? OK but she is even further from the mainstream than Cavendish.

Mark Cavendish

Cavendish's slumps never last long. Photo: Getty

The Isle of Man-born phenomenon, now 26, has been blitzing sprints around the world almost from the moment he exploded onto the road racing scene in 2007.

Three more Tour de France stage wins have come in the last 10 days, taking his career haul to 19, good enough for joint seventh place on the all-time list, only three behind Lance Armstrong. There have also been notable victories in stellar races such as the Giro d'Italia, Milan-San Remo and Spain's Vuelta.

But it is not just the quality and quantity of his successes that set Cavendish apart from most British stars. It is how he succeeds that causes so much confusion.

Let's be honest, the majority of us still don't really get cycling - too many foreign locations, names and words for our Anglocentric tastes. How can Cavendish keep winning races and still be two hours behind the little Spanish chap in the yellow jersey? He's the winner, isn't he?

The short answer to that question - and it is one I frequently get in the BBC newsroom - is yes, Cavendish is not "winning" the Tour de France itself and he never will. Quite simply, he is the wrong shape to win a 2,000-mile, three-week slog that passes through two mountain ranges. No amount of training will ever change that.

But Le Tour is not like most sports events. There are different races, which appeal to different racers, within the main race. It is not a Test match, it is a series of T20 contests sprinkled throughout a Test and Cavendish is the master blaster who empties the bar every time he comes to the wicket.

His specialty, the bunch sprint, is supposed to be cycling's great lottery. A cavalry charge of colours and grimaces, there are few sights in sport that can match 100 riders or more arriving in a town centre at 45mph. Cavendish, however, has made the unpredictable predictable. After all, he can hit 48mph.

Over the last four years, he has won half of all the "flat" stages contested at the Tour de France, the one event in the calendar that every top rider turns up for in peak condition. And when you look only at the stages that actually finished in bunch sprints (i.e. you strip out the breakaway wins and stages affected by crashes), his success rate climbs to almost 90%. This is not supposed to happen.

Such is Cavendish's domination that his rare defeats become bigger news events than his victories. When former team-mate and verbal sparring partner Andre Greipel beat him to the line for the first time on Tuesday last week, Cav was the story. That he would avenge this loss on Wednesday, in emphatic fashion, was the least surprising sports result in France since New Zealand beat Portugal at the last Rugby World Cup.

This brings in another ingredient to the Cavendish mix: his ability to cope with expectation. The HTC-Highroad team has been put together to give him the best chance of success. But that brings with it extreme pressure. There are almost 80 team employees whose livelihoods depend on Cav's ability to deliver the media exposure the sponsors demand. It is his job to win - and he takes that responsibility seriously.

This partly explains why he sometimes comes across as an arrogant so-and-so. Put a microphone under his nose 30 seconds after he has won another sprint and what you get is a heart-pumping release of self-belief that can upset listeners of a more Corinthian persuasion.

But mixed up with all the bravado is usually a lot of respect for the race, gratitude for his team-mates and honesty about his performance. He knows he is good. To deny that would be to abdicate his responsibility to his team.

He is also - and this is becoming ever clearer - a bright spark with a great sense of humour. I will be surprised if there is a funnier post-race interview this year than the one in which he answered claims he was helped up a Giro d'Italia mountain stage by the team car. Cavendish invited his critics to join him at the back of the field with the marching band and ice cream van to see for themselves.

And yet despite the wins, occasional whines and frequent wind-ups, he remains a down-to-earth bloke from Douglas. As polite and softly-spoken off the bike as he is bold and brassy on it.

We probably won't hear much from the Manx mouth for a few days now but there will be a further chance for Cavendish to empty the bars: the final dash up the Champs-Elysees.

I think he will win that. He should also earn the green jersey, given to the Tour's most consistent finisher, a title he has held within British sport for the last four years.

Will this finally bring him the credit he deserves back in Blighty? Probably not but hopefully he won't be mentioned in despatches the next time another British hope conforms to type and comes up just short on the big stage.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog Matt, most people who follow cycling know what a special talent Cav is, it's just the uninformed lot who jump on the band wagon during le tour who don't. You get a much better insight into cav from his twitter account, and helps to bring across his good points a bit more. (

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes, please feel free to place Andy Murray in the same under-achieving bracket as the England football team. Only in Britain could we consider 4th in the world, a man competing at the highest level in one of the (to be seen as) great eras of men's tennis, with to be legends of the game and fighting them hard as he can as being not quite good enough. I mean he has made two semi-s and one grand slam final this year, Federer doesn't have that record, is he a failure?

    However, kudos to the Cav, just hope he can take the Green Jersey, he really deserves it!

  • Comment number 3.

    Excellent blog but I wish the BBC took pro cycling more seriously.

    Cavendish is some way on the road to being the greatest stage racer in history and he barely gets a mention in his home country thanks to a conservative policy towards cycling. I understand getting the rights to the Tour De France is complex but too often BBC sports anchors just seem ignorant of the sport.

    As a French commentator once said (in French) 'How did a man as sublime as Cavendish come out of a country full of cycling ignoramuses?'

  • Comment number 4.

    Great blog Matt. Road Cycling is still very much a minority sport in this country, yet if Cav was French for example, he would be considered one of their greatest sportsman already.

    Regarding your....Name another home-grown hero/heroine who has been so good for so long?...the sportsman that comes to my mind is AP McCoy, as a big horse racing fan, I see many similar traits in both men.

  • Comment number 5.

    Cav is the most exciting thing about this TdF ...again. For those who claim he is only successful because the team carry him along. Please tell me why all the other world class sprinters on this Tour can't beat him ? They get the same help as Cav from their respective teams.

  • Comment number 6.

    A fine assessment of Cavendish's current placement in the cycling and sporting worlds. It frustrates me when ignorant people claim Murray to be monotonous and miserable and Cav to be arrogant and brash - spend any time studying them and listening to what they have to say will demonstrate that Murray has a very dry sense of humour and that Cav is one of the most humble and selfless riders in the peloton.

    If Cav holds on for Green in Paris next weekend then he should rightly be considered in a 3-way battle for Sports Personality with messrs McIlroy and Clarke, only Cav's success in unprecedented not only by any British cyclist but by any cyclist ever.

  • Comment number 7.

    Cav is an amazing talent and an all round honest guy. You can tell at the the end of each sprint finish by his insistance an thanking his team mates and he always goes straight to them to thank them for leading him out. Will he ever get the recognition from sports fans outside of cycling? i doubt it. He has to be a leading contender for sports personality of the year but i'm not holding my breath. The Manx Missile is a legend!!! COME ON CAV

  • Comment number 8.

    Cav 's ability to put himself in the optimum finishing position race after race, and deliver at the end, is verging on superhuman.

    Surprised you failed to mention Alistair Brownlee in your list of top Brits. Granted he is young and so has not dominated for a similar period but he is the outstanding athlete in his sport.

  • Comment number 9.

    Cavendish is THE best sprinter in the world. Possibly THE best cyclist in the world. He won 5 stages in the Tour de France last year, in 2 years he beat the all-time British record, our best chance ever to become World Champion in Copenhagen later this year, yet he came 7th in the Sports Personality last year. Tour de France, the greatest annual sporting event in the world. We need to cherish this amazing phenom before he is gone

  • Comment number 10.

    Great achievement to win all the stages.
    In 4-5 years time or when cav retires he sill likely be greatest stage winner.
    However does this really mean greatest cyclist.
    Greatest sprinter no doubt ever.
    Maybe cav should train a bit more on the mountains.

    People only really remember tour winners.
    Not stage winners.
    That's like saying a tennis player always gets to the final of a grand slam (6 best of five sets victories) but constantly lose the final.
    Great achievement but you want to win the final not be runner up.
    Always the bridesmaid never the bride.
    I am not putting down the achievement but cav being 2 hrs down from yellow yet wins most stages in the tour, not just this year but every year.
    Bit strange.

  • Comment number 11.

    No-one mentiones it's unparalleled for a sprinter to win as many stages as Cav, he doesn't just win he dominates the opostion. Was watching a recording of Chasing Legends last night from the 2009 Tour. Interestingly showed Cav beating Farrar to a bunch sprint, made me realise how long other sprinters have been around and in Ferrar's case he has one stage victory compared to Cav's 19.

    The guy is an incredible phenomenon and it's a shame we don't celebrate his achievements much more just because we don't get it! Not that there's much to get about it anyway.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just a true superstar. He's not excessively arrogant at all but is honest and entertaining. I remember Cipollini sneaking off the back when the Tour hit the mountains. My favourite story: "A few weeks ago he upset the veteran sprinter Mario Cipollini during the time-trial stage of the Tour of California by taking one foot off a pedal as he went past, making it look as if he could overtake the Italian with just one leg"

  • Comment number 13.

    The people complaining how cycling is a minority sport in this country need to think about what they're saying. The thing that makes a sport major or minor is totally dependant on the popularity of the sport to the public. Road cycling is not an appealing sport to that majority of the country, as it is not a skill based sport, and in our country we like skill based sports such as Cricket, Golf, Tennis and Football. You can't just suddenly change from a major to a minor sport because a few people like cycling.

  • Comment number 14.

    Brilliant sprinter. His stage wins alone mark him out as one of the tours all time greats. Ok, so he'll never win Le Tour, but if he picks up the green jersey this year, then as the first Brit ever to do so, he deserves to be acknowledged by the British public as a sporting icon.

  • Comment number 15.

    By his colleagues and the rest of the cycling world he's definately seen as the fastest man (sprinter), no question about it. He deserves all the praise he gets.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think the thing that has allowed Cavendish to flourish is his escape from the media hype while he developed as a rider. While the likes of Hoy and Wiggins were getting applause here for their contribution for gold medals in the Olympics, Cavendish built a huge reputation in the much more important forum of European road racing. Quite simply he is seen as the sprinter to beat by the rest of the Tour, i.e., the best sprinter in the world. While he has undoubtedly been helped by HTC, he has, as you say Matt, carried that responsibility.

    And its not an unrequited effort by the rest of the team - they all get an equal share of his win bonus. And in interviews, it is clear he appreciates greatly the individuals of the team whose contribution he needs. Yesterday he made a sly dig at the other teams for not backing their sprinter even though they clearly paid a lot for them so you can see he is aware of other teams' criticism/jealousy(!).

    As for his success I think that outside the media limelight he has found space to build the self sustaining mental strength to succeed without the "help" provided by the backslapping journalists. Indeed the hype given to the other less worthy riders probably provided him with a greater hunger. This has no doubt helped him build the fortitude to deal with the pressure of expectation.

    As for comparisons with other sportsmen in the UK, I think you are highlighting more strongly the paucity of knowledgeable hype-free sporting journalism in this country rather than the respective abilities of other high profile sportsmen. In other words the one that escaped the coverage succeeded.

    A paradox? Not really. The truth is journalism hurts athletes in this country (and in other areas but that's another blog!). They are inconsistent and moody with their "love" of an athlete, basking in the reflected glory of their success and making an idol out of him. As soon the athlete falls short for whatever reason the media are descending on him like a pack of vultures all trying to vindicate their sporting knowledge saying why he or she failed, taking personal sleight in their failure even though they had nothing to do with their success. Indeed they have even upped the ante so that any minor deviations from expectation are seen as signs of an inevitable failure. What athlete, especially a developing one, could succeed with that level of attention?

  • Comment number 17.

    @Williedaho Cav will never be able to win in the mountains. Its not about training, his muscle composition prevents him from that. @TipperOakham Is road cycling not a skill based sport? Thor Hushovd hit 69mph on the descent of the Col du Galibier the other day. That takes a bit of skill. Cavendish hits 50mph on the flat in his sprints, that takes some skill too. They ride 4,000km, 5 or 6 hours a day, every day bar 2, for over 3 weeks. These guys are incredible athletes who don't even deserve to be talked about in the same breath as footballers

  • Comment number 18.

    Cavendish is without doubt sportsman of the year, no matter what goes on until the end of this year.
    I cannot believe that the BBC are not televising this truly great event.
    The BBC show their true colours when it comes to choosing classy events over trashy events!

  • Comment number 19.

    "5. At 11:03 18th Jul 2011, fatClyde wrote:
    Cav is the most exciting thing about this TdF ...again. For those who claim he is only successful because the team carry him along. Please tell me why all the other world class sprinters on this Tour can't beat him ? They get the same help as Cav from their respective teams."

    Actually I disagree with Cav being the most exciting thing although it has been great to see. I think Gilbert has been great to watch as has the yellow jersey competition with Voeckler having a great chance of taking the yellow jersey over the tour favourites, the first Frenchman with a chance of winning in over 20 years.

  • Comment number 20.

    Isn't "the little Spanish chap in the yellow jersey" er French?

  • Comment number 21.

    "20. At 11:49 18th Jul 2011, Drew Young wrote:
    Isn't "the little Spanish chap in the yellow jersey" er French?"

    LOL - great spot. Come on Matt - at least get the yellow jersey holder right!

  • Comment number 22.

    Great blog and encouraging comments above. I've only got into pro cycling the last few years, and as a big sports fan generally it took me some time, so whilst I wish Cav and the sport in general had more recognition in UK, I also appreciate that its not the most accessible sport to all. Ultimately, this sport is HUGE on the continent, and we're just nowhere near the levels of interest here yet. Hopefully Cav's efforts and the admirable aims of team Sky are changing this, but there's still miles to go.

    On that point, is it really likely that Cav would go to team Sky (as suggested in one of the links you gave, Matt)? Sky are a GC team, and ultimately want a GB champion - this doesn't fit with Cav's abilities or ambitions as a sprinter. I think you blogged on this very topic a while back, Matt, i just cant work out why that would happen, unless Sky are shelving there GC ambitions in the short term to go for some stage wins and green jerseys

  • Comment number 23.

    Personally I really like Cav's 'I am the best attitude', because he is. He will go down as one of the greatest sprinters ever, providing he can clinch the green jersey.

    As for him not getting the credit he deserves - he's in the wrong sport. Road cycling, and especially the Tour De France, will only ever be a niche sport in this country because it is so bloomin' complex and boring to watch until the end!

    If only he'd win a couple of gold medals in 2012 he'd soon be advertising for Bran Flakes.

  • Comment number 24.

    The TdF has been superb this year, Watching the awesome HTC Express deliver Cav to the line 4 times has been fantastic. Cav does not get the recognition that he deserves...the horsey mob get more respect from the beeb tbh.

    Cav for Sports Personality of the Year!!!

    P.S. Big shout for the fanatastic coverage of this years tour on ITV4...watching Saturday's six climb stage live was brilliant.

  • Comment number 25.

    The prob;em is at the end of the day the question asked will be: who won TDF? and the name in the history books will not be Cavendish.
    He is great at what he does : sprints; but a winner is ine who starts and crosses the line in the least amount of time. We know Cavendish is up there for the Gold medal in track racing, but when it comes to the tours, how do cycling enthusiasts tell kids growing up and the rest of sports fans, thant he is a winner, when the one that lifts the trophy is ina yellow jersey? Sounds confusing. The sport has some work to do in educating therest of the public what the rules actually say.
    Mark is ceratinly a hero in the 'cycling' world, but to others who will want to join in with the sport, the rules are not to clear for all to follow. This is why his victories are not celeberated/recognised in this country as it should. Yes in the olympics on track he will e celeberated by all as everyone understands the start to finish, but in road races (tours) its quite iffy

  • Comment number 26.

    100% agree- Cav is a phenomenal talent, and a true professional. Unlike other british 'stars' he has developed his natural ability, trained hard and taken the pressure and responsibility on his shoulders. He delivers the goods everytime, and yes he has the odd rant when he doesn't, but he doesn't make excuses for himself.

    And remember the GB rowing team- the depth of talent and the results they have obtained over the last 20 years is true achivement

    Similarly the brownlee brothers are becoming legends in triathlon. They have been performing at the top of their sport for several years now and they continue to dominate and lift the standards of the sport.

  • Comment number 27.

    "Three more Tour de France stage wins have come in the last 10 days, taking his career haul to 19, good enough for joint seventh place on the all-time list, only three behind Lance Armstrong."

    They were saying in the Eurosport coverage that there are a few who think its only a matter of time before he will get the all-time record for stage wins. Personally I hope he escapes the limelight long enough to achieve this.

  • Comment number 28.

    The uneducated are again shouting rubbish. Do these people actually think that the winner of the Tour manage to do this on thier own? Yes they do, conveniently forgetting about the team time trial, the back room staff and all the work by their team riders putting them in the right place during every stage of the tour.

    Armstrong was a master at this. His team and tactics were as ruthlessly efficient as HTC's. Each stage they put and protected Armstrong. And in the mountains they systematically destroyed the opposition by setting high tempos which few could stt with.

    Cavendish is fantastic at what he does, deserves recognition beyond cycling and he never asks for it and is always more than happy to appreciate the efforts of his team.

  • Comment number 29.


    I think any confusion amongst the uninitiated is down to the lack of mainstream coverage of the sport of road cycling, especially the Grand Tours, in the UK.

  • Comment number 30.

    At 11:00 18th Jul 2011, Dourscot wrote:

    As a French commentator once said (in French) 'How did a man as sublime as Cavendish come out of a country full of cycling ignoramuses?'

    Probably because in the Isle of Man we take Road Racing seriously rather than our much bigger ignorant neighbour. (Not Ireland) :)

  • Comment number 31.

    @Williedaho (#10): you're so right. And that Usain Bolt chap - why doesn't he run more marathons, eh? Like anyone's going to remember him.

  • Comment number 32.

    Cav will stay with HTC-Highroad if they sort out a new and substantial longterm sponsor. If they can't and disband then him, Renshaw and Greipel will be off as a package I would have thought.

  • Comment number 33.

    not Greipel, I meant Eisel!

  • Comment number 34.

    25. At 12:05 18th Jul 2011, bdyke04 wrote:

    You could probably bet that the whole of the UK will be behind Cav come the Olympic Road Race. Whats the difference between him winning that race and a race on Tour? If people can't understand it then maybe they just try reading a little about it...or maybe watch it??

  • Comment number 35.

    Good blog Matt. Maybe the difference between Cav and the rest of the sporting Brits is that he is Manx! People from the Isle of Man are used to being Brits when it suits the UK media, and invisible the rest of the time. His never say die attitude is not uncommon among sportsmen and women from the Island. You are one of the few who actually point out that he is Manx.

  • Comment number 36.

    Interview with Renshaw yesterday hinted that he, Cav and Bernie Eisel might come to Sky as a package, even if Stapleton gets HTC or other funding.

  • Comment number 37.

    Ah, strike4A, we were on the same page after all!

  • Comment number 38.

    I have been watching the tour, and cycling in general, for the last five years now, and I still watch in disbelief at the way The Manx Missile dominates the flat stages, picking up mountains of stage victories . The likes of Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and co rightfully recieve the most plaudits for their abilities to climb the highest mountains, showing unbelievable strength and fight to still climb at high speeds. But Cavendish is spoken about in the same breath as these riders. Never has a cyclist dominated sprints like Cavendish before. His team does a lot of work for him, granted, but they do it all for Cav as they know that he has as close to a 100 percent chance of winning the stage as humanly possible. Will he ever win the tour de france ? No, not a chance amd the quicker people in Britain realise that the better. He is not built in the right way to get over the mountains passes at speed as his legs are far to big for that. However, wearing the yellow jersey for a day or 2 in the future is not beyond him.

    Cavendish dominates his sport like no other sportsman or woman in the world. He deserves so much more credit that he recieves. If he was french he would be worshipped like no other. One day, that might happen in Britain. For now, he just has to be content with riding himself into the position of the greatest ever stage winner in the Tour de France's History. A green jersey this year will hopefully help him win SPOTY, but i'm not holding my breath.

    P.S Thomas Voeckler to win the tour, if not then Alberto Contador. Allez Thomas !!!

  • Comment number 39.

    #34 "You could probably bet that the whole of the UK will be behind Cav come the Olympic Road Race."

    Unfortunately if he doesn't, he will be written off by the public. The profile of Olympic success in cycling is probably equivalent to how the tennis world views success in the Olympics. A minor distraction with a chance to boost the nation but nothing more than that.

  • Comment number 40.

    strike4A / Antichthon

    so Sky would then presumably look to be a sprinting team, without yellow jersey ambitions? seems odd becasue i thought Team Sky was set up with a long-term goal of one day seeing a British rider win the tour.

  • Comment number 41.

    One other factor is that cycling is still struggling to come to terms with being a professional Olympic sport.
    For years amateur Olympic cycling developed into a very different beast from the professional sport, and since the IOC got its act together, a much cleaner one.
    So when the pros were allowed in, the top pros did not take the Olympics seriously: Armstrong's best Olympic result was a bronze in a time trial, for example, unlike other sports like tennis where the top pros usually feature on the Olympic medal table too.
    When Cav went to the last Olympics after the Tour he was sidelined by the tour management which concentrated on the ex amateur events to great success -- and to the public Olympic medals still mean you are the best.
    So being a giant of the tour, (the pinnacle of cycling) will not ring bells with the UK public until it is backed by gold Olympic medals around the neck.

  • Comment number 42.

    Doesn't make any sense to me either Kurto.

  • Comment number 43.

    I guess the majority of people in this country are football fans. However, the exploding numbers of cyclists certainly know Cavendish to be the fantastic winner he is. In truth, he may well be our top sportsman. I think that what happened to him at the last Olympics has not helped despite the fact that he was faultless.

  • Comment number 44.

    To say that people will only remember the winner of the Tour just isn't true. Put on the spot I could only name two Tour winners - Contador & Armstrong. Why? Because they are multiple winners.

    If Cavendish wins the green jersey this year and maybe one or two more times on his way to the record for stage wins, he will be remembered. People remember success. Does anyone think the British public would care about cycling at all if it wasn't for the Olympics? I never watched the Tour before Wiggins and Cav made it relevant for me!

  • Comment number 45.

    TipperOakham, your comment that road cycling is and I quote' not a skill based sport' is one of the most uneducated ignorant condescending comments I think I have ever read with regard to road cycling. I don't know if you have ever been on a bike but try handling a bike at 50 miles an hour half an inch from someones wheel and see how long you stay on! You stay on with pure skill and amazing awareness.
    The skill of these guys never ceases to amaze me the bike is almost part of the rider they are incredible and Mark Cavendish should be hailed as one of our greatest ever sports stars - in my opinion. Well done Cav can't wait to see you in Green in Paris.

  • Comment number 46.

    Matt I can't see Cavendish the recognition he rightly deserves now until hopefully he wins the road race gold medal at the Olympics next year. The question I have for that is, is the British road race team prepared to do everything they can to get Cav in to the position he needs to sprint for the gold medal or will they be looking at trying to win it themselves.

  • Comment number 47.

    Drew Young and United Dreamer (20 &21) - I was referring to Alberto Contador, not Thomas Voeckler. And if you think the kind of people who ask the questions I mention above have any idea who Voeckler is, or where he comes from, then you're missing my point entirely!

    Sharper (4) - Good shout re: McCoy but I think his achievements just seem a bit more domestic than Cav's. Unfair, I know, as it's almost impossible to be a global horse racing star.

    Lopez (8) - Yep, Ali Brownlee is another who deserves greater recognition. But that wasn't supposed to be a comprehensive list! I was inviting nominations....Brownlee's in!

    Exiledportfan (2) - Don't forget, the Murray comparison wasn't mine, it was Powell's. I only state that I find that more understandable as he hasn't quite delivered a big win yet. But I accept your point about our impossibly high standards for him....I did say he was "admirable" and "not quite" good enough. I hope he proves me wrong in New York next month.

  • Comment number 48.

    Brilliant blog and one that was badly needed.

    #3 "I wish the BBC took pro cycling more seriously."

    Indeed. I'm still waiting for the BBC to wake up to the fact that we are watching a generation of British talent coming through that we've never had before. If it's stifling the sport's growing following, it's a shame.

  • Comment number 49.

    As testament to road cycling's place in the British psyche, I'll wager 10 quid that this excellent blog about a true Champion and legend in the making will be off the BBC Sport's homepage by the end of the day and relegated to the cycling page only. Keep writing the blogs Matt and I'll keep reading them.

  • Comment number 50.

    two things... Chrisse Britain's best ever . No doubts. What she does and how she does it , is just awesome. The fact that people don't know her or hear of her, is down to her sport not being seen as TV worthy. The Beeb should take up that and run with it... It's a sport that is growing fast and big. The second thing, your point about Cav being arrogant... he has a right to be. This is where British sport people fail. They are too damn modest about themselves. Believing in yourself, pumping yourself up, is what all the true greats do. Ali perhaps being the first notable...with his " I am the greatest", but look at them all in their time, Eubanks, Maradonna, Ronaldo, Carl Lewis even, all greats, all arrogant and all blamed for it...Ok let's make it three things... there has been way too much rubbish around doping for most people to take cycling at face value. It's no accident that this years tour is considered slow...that accomplished riders are emotional and tired out, and that past winners are not out in front .. it seems cycling is beginning to clean up it's act.

  • Comment number 51.

    Cavendish is without doubt our best sportsperson bar none. Knowing the BBC, that will not be recognised in SPOTY and the award will yet again go to a fading footballer who can't even play a full season.

  • Comment number 52.

    Matt - I think that audience would probably have missed the point that Contador was Spanish or even a past yellow jersey winner;)

    BTW, although they are not British, it would be nice to see a blog about Voeckler and the broader unpopularity of Contador. To me Voeckler is the story of the tour. Indeed there are many also saying that tour is a lot cleaner this year as well, which is possibly even a bigger story.

  • Comment number 53.

    40.At 12:23 18th Jul 2011, Kurto wrote:
    strike4A / Antichthon

    so Sky would then presumably look to be a sprinting team, without yellow jersey ambitions? seems odd becasue i thought Team Sky was set up with a long-term goal of one day seeing a British rider win the tour.


    Not necessarily Sky but if HTC-Highroad is no more after this season then others will be keen. Sky would be a tricky one, yes, because they are so focussed around Wiggins. I can't imagine the team working day in day out on the flat then doing the same in the mountains to support Wiggins but Brailsford probably knows far better than me!

  • Comment number 54.

    To be fair to the boxing pundit, given Cavs consistency, he was a little off the pace in the first few stages if the Tour (comparatively to his own high standards), and so perhaps he expected more.

    In fact if there is a criticism of Cav, it's that he has not been able to make his consistency count for him in the battle for the green jersey. There is no doubt in his ability to win sprint finishes, but despite dominating his opposition and finishing on the Champs Elysee he has not taken home the green jersey, conceding vital points to his competitors in the intermediate sprints. Cav, in his third tour now, should be taking home the Green when they finish in Paris, and as long as he can make it through the Alps this now appears to be a formality.

    What disgruntles me about this blog, and sports journalism in general in this country is the narrowness of our viewpoint, covering only football, rugby, cricket, snooker, darts and formula 1 with any major coverage. Two of those I would not even think of as true sports, but parlor games and another being debatable because technology is the biggest factor controlling the game. Don't get me started on golf either....

    Given that the BBC seems to think of itself as providing a public service to the nation (and the world) why doesn't it give up the rights to some of these expensive sports and provide the same sort of excellent analysis and coverage to other sports such as cycling, basketball, triathlon, and the like. This would do wonders for these sports and by highlighting the real courage and commitment of other sportsmen do a lot to puncture the overblown arrogance of overpaid football players, and perhaps even get them to focus on their sport and become truly great sportsman.

    I disagree with the comments about Andy Murray though. He's a great tennis player. Probably the best British player I have seen in my lifetime and yet we are so quick to jump on him when he fails to meet our over hyped expectation. It's been a rare thing for anyone to beat Nadal or Federer, and outside of those two Murray has one of the best records as his no.4 seeding suggests. I think we should support him more despite defeat. My one criticism is that he lacks good media rapport and so it makes it easier for journalists to turn on him and fans to dislike him. But this does not make him any less a sportsman.

  • Comment number 55.

    Road cycling isn't exactly difficult to understand if you just watch it.

    Cavendish was listed as one of the top 50 marketable sportsmen in the world. Only 6 Britons made the list. Lewis Hamilton (5th), Jess Ennis (12th), McIlroy (21st), Rooney (28th), Murray (32nd) and Cavendish (35th).

    I wonder how well known Sir Chris Hoy is outside of the UK. Not as well as Cavendish I'd wager.

  • Comment number 56.

    It's good to see Cavendish doing so well , but in answer to your question

    "Name another home-grown hero/heroine who has been so good for so long?"

    May I suggest Mr Mick Gault - now 'retired last year ' but 18 commonwealth medals vitually without any public recognition.

  • Comment number 57.

    Steve Peat - Current Downhill MTB World Champion.

    Took his first World Cup Win in 1998 and is still one of the top 5 riders in the world at the age of 37, and all in a high risk sport where serious injury is very likely.

  • Comment number 58.

    And I forgot top add is the most successful Downhill racer of all time based on number of world cup wins.

    Does a lot of charity work and has been instrumental in the rise of several of the current top British riders.

    But how many people have heard of him?

  • Comment number 59.

    great blog and very true.I fear cav is going to be like carl fogerty,true champion but not recognised by the blinkered public who only get brain washed by so called hero footballers.Even the media coverage is pathetic.
    The sprints have me on the edge of my seat everytime and cav delivers,he will get my vote, as he always does, on sports personality.

  • Comment number 60.

    @ strike4A / Antichthon / Kurto

    It seems to me this is the really interesting dynamic about the whole Team Sky/Team GB dynamic which GB Cycling are trying to bridge in terms of track vs road cycling.

    In absolute terms, if you're talking about building a GB-based team (using primarily the best of British), which will be 'successful' (by which I mean either having the potential to win Grand Tours, stages in Grand Tours, or the big one day races), that team simply has to be built around Mark Cavendish.

    While I have massive respect for Wiggo, Thomas etc, these guys simply don't offer the cast-iron certainty we seem to be able to get from Cavendish in terms of racking up wins (and therefore massively raising the team's profile).

    The problem is that realistically, teams can only set out their stall to either push for the yellow jersey, or secure stage wins. It would be hard on Wiggins, but if Cavendish comes to Sky, the team simply has to adapt to fit him.

  • Comment number 61.


    Spot on. You don't see Contador arriving at Le Tour with a sprinter in his team. The GC contenders who do have sprinters, fall by the wayside. Tony Martin, touted for a top 10 finish, lost oodles of time in the mountains after working for Cavendish on the flatter days.

  • Comment number 62.

    Well if you are going to complain about coverage folks then this is the place to do it. The public will only ever know what they are told. Blogs like this are important.. but there are so many other sports, growing in following and participants, and the beeb are almost ignoring them. I think the more you write about cycling and triathlons and duathlons, then the more people will read... Daley Thompson was a great world famous name one time... pity the Beeb dropped these type of sports for the more lucrative ones....

  • Comment number 63.

    @TipperOakham - cycling is an incredibly skillful sport in the same way that formula 1 is a skill based sport. Except in cycling, they are both the engine and the driver. Negotiating tiny, winding, mountain road descents at about 60mph takes a fair bit of skill I would say.

    Cycling is increasingly more popular in the UK and hopefully, as a consequence, Cav will get more recognition for what is truly ground-breaking success in the sport. He's not just good, if he continues this form for future years, he will be a great. There aren't too many British greats around at the moment and I for one would like to spend more time appreciating the success of some of our amazing athletes than bemoan the mediocre footballers.

  • Comment number 64.

    And where does Jeff Powell figure on the world ranking list of great sporting journalists? His comments are unfair to David Haye, Andy Murray as well as Mark Cavendish, and display his own ignorance.

    I have never had an active involvement with cycling and have only started to watch regularly in the last 4 years ie since Mark Cavendish hit the scene. I think it is a fabulous spectator sport that has everything - speed, thrills, danger, teamwork, tactics, grace and style, as well as races within the race. To watch the HTC team and Mark Cavendish perform is to watch the epitome of sporting excellence. And there is the greatest thrill because he is British.

  • Comment number 65.

    I wonder how much debate there would have been if Wiggins hadn't crashed out. I thought that Wiggins would have done well and to be fair Cavendish has pretty much delivered exactly what he set out to do (with one exception).

    Wiggins was on the podium 2 years back and was almost un-noticed and this year he looked physically ready for the challenge.

  • Comment number 66.

    I share your exasperation with Jeff Powell but wonder whether you were being serious when you wrote about British hopefuls conforming to type and coming up short?
    I remember your blogs on the 2008 olympics. You must know better than most there are a great many British hopefuls who deliver consistently across a wide range of sports. Its probably only in football that British national teams come up short-though bizarrely England are fourth, I believe, in the current FIFA rankings.
    I think that those comments above pointing out that its only in a number of overhyped sports that British hopefuls come up short are right. If you want an example of failure across a wide range of sports its got to be Australia, hasn't it?

  • Comment number 67.

    I think the reason for "most people don't get the Tour de France" is quite simple:


  • Comment number 68.

    "Name another home-grown hero/heroine who has been so good for so long?"

    How about Ben Ainslie?

  • Comment number 69.

    Re great British sporting heroes - Tanni Grey-Thompson anyone? Lost count how many London marathons and paraolympic medals she won. Could look up but about to go into a meeting at work.

    Back to this year's tour - has been best, or atleast most interesting for a few years wih surprise winners (Cav excluded). Hushvod's recent win one of the best stages I've watched since Indurain and Ciapucci used to do battle. Think 9hope) one of the Schleck's will finally get yellow this year

  • Comment number 70.

    #67 - absolutely agree. I wait with baited breath for this years batch of cheaters to be discovered

  • Comment number 71.

    #70, I think you missed it already... one guy was caught. People here in france are observing the cyclists are more tired, and much slower than usual, still have to see some real evidence to back that up, but I am pretty hopeful... it's probably why it's so open this year in my opinion..

  • Comment number 72.

    "Thomas Voeckler to win the tour, if not then Alberto Contador. Allez Thomas !!!"

    Can't see it. I suspect that Thursdays stage will see Thomas begin to leak time. He did better than expected on the tough stage on Saturday but only the final climb took them above the critical 2000m altitude. On Thursday they have the horrors of Col Angel (2744m) Col d'Izoard (2360m) and Col du Galibier (2645m). With the lower oxygen available at these higher altitudes there will be a selection. If he finds himself still wearing yellow on Friday the Galibier (again!) and Alpe d'Huez will test his legs. He won't be in yellow on Saturday. The time trial on Saturday after a couple of days in the Alps like that seems rather cruel.

    As for Conti. He couldn't drop Andy last year, he'll not drop him this year. Where does he gain the 2 minutes plus he'll need over his rivals?

  • Comment number 73.

    for what it's worth average speed in the tours in KM per hour note the spike in 2005, I would be we will be back to 38.N this year........

    1955: 34.4, 1960: 37.2, 1965: 35.9, 1970: 35.6, 1975: 34.9, 1980: 35.1, 1985: 36.2, 1990: 38.6, 1995: 39.2, 2000: 39.6, 2005: 41.5, 2010: 39.6

  • Comment number 74.

    Murray is a great tennis player. Haye was a decent boxer. England are rubbish at football. Cavendish is a brilliant sprinter but he *does* need the HTC 'express' to deliver him to glory. The likes of Renshaw and Martin would be delighted if Cav left HTC.

  • Comment number 75.

    Andy Murray is the 4th best tennis player in the world. 2 of the players ahead of him will go down as two of the best ever, no argument. The other could also, we will see.

    Ricky Hatton has been beaten twice by two legends.

    England didn't win the world cup, or get close. Spain are a far better team just as Barca are ahead of United and didn't it show?

    Haye couldn't beat the bigger stronger man, he did well to get in the same ring.

    Cav is the best sprinter in the world, lets enjoy that without beating up on the others.

  • Comment number 76.

    Great Blog.
    Following the race on a rival channel (shame it is not on the BBC) its taken me as long to understand the rules and regs of Le Tour as Cavendish has been riding in it. But having finally 'got it' I realise what a truly heroic sporting event it is and just how magnificent Cavendish' victories with the help of his team really are. Oh that we could offset the continuous and tedious coverage of, for instance, football and golf with some really gutsy stuff-of-legends like this.

  • Comment number 77.

    >People only really remember tour winners.Not stage winners.
    ignaramouses only remember tour winners.. in reality every stage winner is a hero seeing as every stage is a mini race in itself.. Cav is very un british in that he keeps winning and doesn't care about the others in many ways similar to a certain Lewis Hamilton.. some people can't handle it.. some of us however say about time.. i'm fed up of this corinthian rubbish and 'taking part'.. keep killing them Cav :-)

  • Comment number 78.

    "74. At 14:06 18th Jul 2011, Rabster wrote:
    Murray is a great tennis player. Haye was a decent boxer. England are rubbish at football. Cavendish is a brilliant sprinter but he *does* need the HTC 'express' to deliver him to glory. The likes of Renshaw and Martin would be delighted if Cav left HTC."

    Agree with most of that but not the last sentence. They all benefit from Cavendish's finishing power. If they are confident they can achieve success with another team built around them then they can easily leave. The tour really emphasises the importance of a team approach. Without this noone will achieve the glory that Cav delivers.

  • Comment number 79.

    On my last point - this was what Renshaw said regarding Cav's possible departure to Sky

    "Everybody thinks he (Cavendish) is going to Sky. It hasn't been confirmed, I don't think Cav has confirmed that.

    "There's still a lot of options out there; we still haven't heard from Bob Stapleton about the future of this team.

    "But it's a formidable trio with Bernie Eisel and we'd love to stay together and I think if we did, whereever we end up, we'll win a lot of races."

    Tony Martin may have other plans though.

  • Comment number 80.

    #31 - good call. I've been watching the Tour for years, and if asked to name the five riders I remember enjoying watching the most, they would be Indurain, Abdoujaporov, Cipollini, Chiapucci and Armstrong. Two of these are sprinters, and only two of them ever won the Tour. Anyone claiming Cav is not a true great because he doesn't compete in overall standings does not understand cycling. However, as this is the majority of people in the UK, this explains why he doesn't get the recognition - to win six stages in one TDF as Cav did and not be runaway winner of Sports Personality of the Year is just ridiculous, frankly. Were he French, Spanish, Italian etc he'd be a superstar. But in many ways he probably prefers things as they are.

  • Comment number 81.

    I hope I am wrong, but I can't see Mark Cavendish getting to Paris. Thursday & Friday are both Mountain top finishes & he was lucky to not get eliminated on Saturday last week. I think this year's course is too tough in the mountains for a sprinter & rider like Cavendish. Hopefully I am wrong as if he did make Paris on Sunday & win the Green jersey it should move British Cycling up in the publics agenda a notch or two, but I think it is a "big if".

  • Comment number 82.

    I recall watching Channel 4's excellent coverage of le Tour when it was even less well known in the UK. As a "non-cyclist", I found it quite exciting, as did the commentator, when Stephen Roche finished that memorable mountain stage at la Plagne and went on to win the tour.
    I knew rock climbers/mountaineers who would also watch the program initially just to see the TV footage of the beatiful French scenery. We used to watch the cooking program "Floyd on France" for much the same reasons. (I also knew some people who enjoyed drinking along with Keith).

    If le Tour has a disadvantage, it is that, like Test Cricket, so much of it takes place during working hours on midweek days. So most people will not have much opportunity to see it live. Perhaps Cavendish would be more famous if that was not the case.

  • Comment number 83.

    ...and a after thought based on some of the above comments, are sponsors only allowed one team in le Tour, or could they run one team for a sprinter and another one for the yellow jersey (if they were sponsors with plenty of the folding stuff) ?

  • Comment number 84.

    #74, Rabster wrote:
    "The likes of Renshaw and Martin would be delighted if Cav left HTC."

    Ha ha! Compeltely incorrect.

    They love Cav because he is the most consistent sprinter in the world - nobody else in the HTC team could do what he does. It's an increible team, but Cav is the finisher that they need to get stage wins. He needs them, they need him.

    If he, Renshaw and and Eisel all head to Sky then I wouldn't count against a split team: GC and green. A couple of people (Thomas?) riding for Wiggins, a couple (Renshaw?) for Cav and a couple (Eisel?) for both...

  • Comment number 85.

    Ahhh, Frankie Dettori is a GLOBAL racing legend.

  • Comment number 86.

    Largely a decent blog Matt and glad you pointed out the words at the top were Powell's and not yours, I would expect better from you!
    Congratulations to all those who have mentioned the numerous great GB sportsmen and women we have at the moment to put ignorant football obesessed imbeciles like Jeff Powell in their pathetic little place.
    We are currently seeing an unprecendented level of success accross a range of sports (totally agree with the post that compared this with the Australians who are now laughably mediocre but I'll bet Powell and his ilk haven't noticed that!)
    To add a few more names to the list:
    Nick Matthew and James Wilstrop (world no 1 and 2 in squash)
    Greame Swann (can't believe nobody's mentioned him!)
    Rebecca Adlington (a year's blip post Beijing but good again last year and now well and truly back as world no 1)
    Fran Halsall (fastest in the world this year despite coming back from injury)
    Victoria Pendelton (taken her foot of the gas a bit 1 year out from 2012 but by far and away the best in the world for about 6 years now)
    Dai Greene (in a very competitve event but beat them all just last week)
    Mo Farah(ditto)
    Phillips Idowu (great rivalry with Tamgho, we'll see who comes out on top!)
    Rory McLroy, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell (all had plenty of success on the golf course in the past year)
    We are now amongst the very best sporting nations in the world and for a medium sized country, this is a fine achievement. And I haven't even started on darts and snooker!

    I also predict our best ever world swimming championships and also maybe our best ever world athletics championships in the coming weeks.

    Will somebody please tell all this to the sports editors of the tabloids and please BBC, as a public service broadcaster, give more oxygen to these performers.

    Chrissie Wellington is not just world class but has a case to be the greatest athlete in any sport of all time. Name me another woman in any activity who comes as close to the men as her?

  • Comment number 87.

    It always amazes me what people find so completely confusing about stage racing. A riders times from each stage get added up daily, rather than the result being stand alone as in F1. You could technically win 20 stages by 1 second each time, but you wouldn't be the overall winner if you happened to lose 35 minutes on the 21st stage.

    It isn't uncommon for a Grand Tour winner to win overall, but maybe only cross the line first in one stage. It's the time they take EACH DAY to finish the stage that gets added up, not points for positions as in F1.

  • Comment number 88.

    86 interesting list, and yes for Wellington

  • Comment number 89.

    Oh, and Cavendish is by far the greatest sprinter in recent years, possibly of all time. Should have won green last year, and will definitely win it this year. There is no way on earth that HTC won't bend over backwards to tow him through the Alps

  • Comment number 90.

    Cav will get to Paris, and he will very likely take the green jersey. The Peloton does eject a lot of riders in the mountains but these men stay together in what's known as the autobus and they come in inside the qualifying time.
    Cav does not win stages because of his team, he wins stages because he is a magnificent sprinter.
    His team helps him get in position to attack, butr he is the finisher; and he is among the best ever at that. No rider does it all himself, the tour is finished with team work, and riders help each other constantly.

  • Comment number 91.

    Between the original blog and the following comments, people have listed 3 of what I believe are currently the best british sporting talents yet because they don't play football they are simply not afforded the same media coverage.

    Mark Cavendish, as someone else pointed out would be a superstar if he were French, he is just totally dominant whilst Alistair Brownlee and Chrissie Wellington win pretty much every race they enter and set world records to boot.

    Yet despite the above, I would be seriously surprised if any of them make the sports personality of the year shortlist. I would like to be surpirsed but I won't hod my breath.

  • Comment number 92.

    Chris Pidgeon, I agree with Abdu and Cippolini, how can Pantani not be on your list though!

    Someone said that if they were put on the spot they could only name Armstrong and Contador as Tour de France winners. While that is obviously ridiculous for a cycling fan I think that Oscar Pereiro and less so Carlos Sastre show that not all Tour winner are remembered as greats.

    Cavendish always messes up the 1st bunch sprint of the tour, I don't know why it's always a shock when he does! He should still win SPOTY if he wins the green jersey, he won't though because a golfer will win it, even though GMac won a major last year and wasn't close in the voting.

  • Comment number 93.

    There are only 2 forsm of exercise I hate with a vengeance, cycling and swimming, but I just love watching cycling on the telly.

    Mark Cavendish is an absolute legend, to the extent that it seems from the interview yesterday with the director of the Tdf that they changed the rules this year just so that he (although the director stopped short of actually saying that) could win the green jersey because it would be a tragedy if a great sprinter like Mark Cavendish couldn't and didn't win it due to the previous rules.

    As for winning the most number of stages, he's only got to get another 16 to beat Merckx and at his current average of 4 or 5 per tour he's only got to keep at this level for the next 3 or 4 years to do it. He's only 26 so there's no reason why he can't. Chris Hoy is 35 and still competing at the top level, notwithstanding that track cycling and road cycling are different animals.

  • Comment number 94.

    Cav absolutely would be a superstar if he were french. He will never win the overall race, however for most riders winning just one stage is the pinnacle of their career.
    In my eyes though CAV IS A SUPERSTAR (Just for the record I'm not French)

  • Comment number 95.

    #4. Home-grown?? Where would you 'Brits' be without Northern Ireland? McIlroy, McDowell, Clarke??

  • Comment number 96.

    I've never understood why people knock the guy,his record on the bike speaks for itself and I find him honest and engaging afterwards when he's interviewed(in the face of some really inane questions). No doubt sometime in the next few years when he's still doing the business (and Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins too hopefully) the BBC will be all over him..

  • Comment number 97.

    @92 - I'm not a cycling fan, at least I haven't been one before the past year or two. But that is part of exactly what I meant; success breeds interest and Cavendish will be remembered because a growing number of people (like me) are interested in cycling because of people like him.

  • Comment number 98.

    Cav is the most exciting cyclist we have ever produced and he still doesn't get the recognition he deserves. This morning's BBC radio news never mentioned his 19th win.
    Will he ever win SPOTY? He's got a better chance of wearing the yellow jersey in Paris!!
    Come on BBC, let's have a competition where the best man actually wins for a change.

  • Comment number 99.

    Cav's feats are legendary indeed. Some may call him a "flat track bully" in cycling but racing around in the heat, hills and mountains of France for more than 2000km and winning about one fourth of all the races is no piece of cake. Add to this the other top equally fast, strong and competitive sprinters from around the world competing for the same green jersey. Every Brit should be proud to have him as a sportsman and he certainly has my respect.

  • Comment number 100.

    Williedaho: There is nothing strange about Cav being "2 hours down" on the yellow jersey. If you bother to learn what the TdF and the green jersey are all about, you will understand his position. The yellow jersey is about the least time on the TdF, the green jersey is simply about points scoring and finishing the Tour, the greatest and hardest sporting event in the world. You can learn a lot from reading this blog and the comments here throroughly. Now pay attention carefully, there will be questions at the end!


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