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Is Mark Cavendish already a legend?

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Ollie Williams | 06:57 UK time, Wednesday, 29 June 2011

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.

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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.

Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw

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."


  • Comment number 1.

    Really looking forward to Saturday. Hoping that Cav can get the five he's setting out for but boy are the team going to have to work to achieve that. With major mountain stages and the "accidentee" stages this is a tough tour. Even some of the "flat" stages are not conducive to a mass sprint.
    Good luck to all of them and "Chapeau" to all who finish the toughest event in world sport in Paris.

  • Comment number 2.

    I can't wait for the tour to start, and this time I really think that he can get the green jersey. Come on Cav!

  • Comment number 3.

    Come on Cav, get over to Sky for 2012. Let us dream..........

  • Comment number 4.

    "arguably the world's best sprinter"?
    I would say undoubtedly the world's best sprinter at the moment - and arguably one of the best sprinters there has ever been in cycling.

  • Comment number 5.

    Cav is a magnificent cyclist and head and shoulders above the other sprinters.He has a great team based around him and I hope he stays at HTC.

    Interesting changes made to the green jersey competition this year,following on form Preudhomme's comments that it is an anomaly that a sprinter winning 5/6 stages shouldn't wear the maillot vert on the Champs Elysee.This is a good chance for him,although the first week may be better suited to someone like Phillippe Gilbert.

    Cav,I wish you all the best for the Tour this year.

  • Comment number 6.

    Ha, I still don't understand why there are those who doubt his sincerity. Suggesting that the tears he cries and the thanks that he delivers his team in post-stage interviews are fake........try riding a few 100km each day at that pace and see if you can stagger off your bike at the end and even make it to a camera to try and speak.

    He is such a hero though, great that he sounds like he still has the hunger too!!! At some points in the previous two Tour de Frances when the cynical jibes landed at his feet I wondered if, admittedly volatile personality he is that, he might try something different. But HTC are great for him, and he too for them; I agree with markholds, right now, out-and-out sprinter, not someone who might be slower in speed but handles the mountains better, Cav is far far far beyond his peers.

    Hope the preps are good, you and your teammates go get them matey, I'll never doubt you Mark.

  • Comment number 7.

    Cavendish gets a lot of stick from people outside of cycling who don't know, or want to know, how the dynamic of a cycling team works.

    I think he's a much misunderstood character, and I'll be cheering him on for the next three weeks.

    Come on Cav!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks for the blog - great insights in to his personality, and the importance of the team to him. I'd love to see Cav in green at the end of the tour. Disagree with #5 though. I think they have made it hard for Cav this year - there are a lot of uphill finishes or hills before flat finishes to tire him out. It looks made for Hushovd who likes those kinds of things. Cav is going to have to work really hard on the intermediate bits and scrap for every point - not something he has had to do before.

    I also doubt that he'll come to Sky. They have to many irons in the fire, so to speak. HTC works for Cav because he is the main man. Can't see Cav in the same team as Wiggins and Bossan Hagen as the team will have to many different objectives. Having said that, Sky are likely to be the team taking the Olympics most seriously, but expecting Gold from Cav one week after the Tour de France might be too much. I suspect that it is TDF or Olympics if you genuinely want to win a major jersey/medal.

  • Comment number 9.

    An unattributed quote from twitter to illustrate the (incorrect) perception the Cav isn't a team player? What is this, the Metro? For me, what is blindingly apparent is that Cav is a man who deeply loves his sport, always credits his teammates, he even personally paid for first class upgrades for Jez Hunt and David Millar for the flight to Australia for last years World Championships. Mark is a rarity, a beautifully outspoken winning machine from Britain, it's almost like the public at large have to respond negatively because he doesn't conform to the plucky loser stereotype. Oh, and "Eddy Merckx, a Belgian considered by many the greatest cyclist in history"? Come on, the cannibal's record speaks for itself, he is the GOAT when it comes to cycling.

  • Comment number 10.

    And Cav won't go to Sky without Renshaw or Eisel at least.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great blog Ollie! I have only been really interested in road cycling for just over a year now so I got caught on the Cav bug when he did so well in the Tour last year. The first thing I learnt that he WAS a team player because after each win he made a point of thanking his team mates first. Okay Cavendish may eventually beat Eddy Merckx's stage wins record but however much I like I don't think he will ever be considered a better rider than Merckx just because he did win literally every race in the world over and over again. For me it is great that British cycling is now getting the coverage it deserves! Here's hoping that Cavendish get the green jersey and Wiggins gets the yellow! Simply cannot wait for Saturday!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    A legend indeed. Come on Cav!

  • Comment number 13.

    I think Cav is simply the nads!

    British cycling is currently in a hell of a position with both him and others like Wiggins and some of the other Brits at Sky really looking good for not just the present, but also the future.

    Asking Cav ridiculous questions with a mic and camera thrust into his face after he has just raced himself into the ground and then exploded to win a final lung-bursting sprint, is it any surprise that he sometimes offends.

    I love his attitude in exactly the same way that I like the Wiggins attitude. Although a different character both seem to not be bothered at all to pandering to the cameras and much prefer to just tell us how it is.

    Isn't that what we want after all?

    I would love to see him at Sky but if I'm honest I'm not sure we will simply because he is the focal point of the HTC team. At Sky the ethos would be split between overall classifications, (with Wiggins to the fore), and sprint results, (with Cav the beneficiary). It would split the focus of the team and reduce it's effectiveness, (in my opinion).

    I have no doubt that Cav will do well over the next 3 weeks, (and I hope Sky do well too), but I doubt that Cav will gain the recognition and plaudits in Britain that the likes of Hoy and Wiggins have been given. I think the reason for this is partly down to the way that the media portrays him, (they should flippin love him because he is always good for a quote), but also partly down to the nature of his role, (where we only see him right at the death and it might be perceived that he is a bit of a glory-hunter), when in fact it is just the role in the team to which he is most suited.

    The media in this country often have a lot to answer for in the "spin" that they put on stories and the way then that public perception is moulded. This is not really aimed at the bike journo's from the BBC, (or even the ITV2 guys who obviously seem to be very pro-Cav), but from the others who seemingly comment from a far less knowledgable position.

    Cav is already a British cycling legend. The way he is going however he could become simply a cycling legend Worldwide.

    Come on the Cav!

  • Comment number 14.

    He shouldn't leave for Sky without the HTC team, you can't wave a magic wand and have the team fit together it takes time. I do not think Sky are right for him.

    Like Bradley Wiggins shouldn't of left Garmin. I shall stand corrected if he does well this year.

  • Comment number 15.

    As someone who has watched le Tour for the last 20 years Cav is not only one of the most outstanding talents of the sport but currently one of Britains most talented sportsmen. The problem is us Brits don't get road racing. Olympics doesn't come close to Tour glory and if you've know anything about what Cav does you know that in his discipline of cycling, sprinting, he is not only the best in the world but he dominates.

    That is partly the problem, he'll win what 2 of every 3 stages he's capable of winning at the Tour so any less could be seen as failure. The commercial aspect as mentioned is interesting, there are what probably 5 or 6 teams realistically competing for those stages wins and if one team and one rider is winning 2 out of 3 that leases the other 4 or 5 to compete with the rest. There is a lot of respect but also alot of envy from the others. Cav has been on the end of some rediculous penalty decisions too. Last year he kinda fluffed the first two possible stage wins but still won 4 or 5 that year but the media glare on those failures is immense. Almost like the media want him to fail because it's a bigger story.

    His emotional first stage win last year showed just how human the guy is and how much pressure there is on him in the first place.

    He's honest, says it like he sees it and where's his heart on his sleeve so should be admired.

    I half think the pop at Wiggins was right, Wiggins by the time of the madison looked spent of energy, from a selfish point of view from Brad I can understand that but ultimately meant our most talented cyclist was the only one to come back without a meddle.

    Put it this way if Cav spent a little more time on something like track sprinting Chris Hoy wouldn't have a hope or a prayer, it's just for Cav his numer one priority is Road Cycling.

    Personally I hope he and HTC put a little more effort into winning the Green Jersey. Seeming as his main competitors have to as there's few stage victories available after Cav has won most of them and the fact that HTC put no effort into gaining points for the green jersey he's come mighty close the last few years but again most Brits probably think if he's the best why doesn't he win that.

  • Comment number 16.

    The man is already a legend in my mind anyway, a brilliant character and the world's best sprinter. I love his attitude and feel he is much misunderstood. I hope he does stay with HTC as they're a great team and it's refreshing to see his loyalty to them thus far, but it's probably inevitable that he'll end up at Sky one day.

    I fear that uphill finishes might be a stretch too far and the likes of Hushovd will be much better suited, but I'll be rooting for the Cav alright. It will be sensational if he can win one of these type of finishes.

    Good blog Ollie and good comments, here's hoping for more blogs like this throughout the Tour.

  • Comment number 17.

    Already a legend mate.
    Great video - nice to see some of the back room guys, and Bernie.
    I love the "riders change their mind" line...
    Don't leave HTC Cav, there's a good chap, you winning in their colours is becoming iconic, and i still have the feeling Sky is just a passing fad...

  • Comment number 18.

    Great point Tim, there's been some shocking decisions against Cavendish over the years. I will love it if he beats Hushovd on a stage that suits the big man better!

  • Comment number 19.

    One reason we like Cav is because he is a winner but always respects his team mates. That twitter comment is just ignorance. Come on Cav - make us all smile and cheer over the next 3 weeks like you've always done

  • Comment number 20.

    "arguably the best sprinter in the world". Surely that should have been "unarguably"

  • Comment number 21.

    Cav is an unsung sporting hero and deserves far more recognition for his achievements than he currently gets. His ability on a bike is extraordinairy and anyone who doubts his class should re-watch last years finish on the Champs Elysees as that alone should tell you everything you need to know about the man.

    As for the Team Sky links I'm not so sure that will be a good move as he has a team at the moment in HTC Highroad that works for him and him alone. With Sky and their aim to have a British winner of the Tour de France by 2015 Cav would have to realise his own aims will always be second to Team Sky's and I don't think that will sit well with him.

    Looking forward to le Tour and I hope Cav gets another handful of wins.

  • Comment number 22.

    I actually think Le Tour have made it harder for Cav to win the Green with the changes to the points classification. Unless HTC can adapt their strategy and get points in the intermediate sprint it will be hard for Cav to win.

    Especially with the first week profile seeing 4 if not 5 of the 'sprint' stages featuring inclined finishes or even proper hills. But history tells us that Le Tour like to make it harder for those they don't favour (especially English speaking ones).

    Gilbert or Hushovd for Green during week 1, Cav's best chance will come later in the flatter stages. Love to see him win Green, but unless his team work for the intermediate, I can't see it being this year.

    Oh and vive le Schleck or Wiggins or anyone who can Contador in his place. Bring on the appeal.

  • Comment number 23.

    If Cav were in a headline grabbing sport like football, he would be a superstar like Messi. He is that good. He also has a great team with the likes of Mark Renshaw and Matt Goss who are both hardnut Aussies who are mental in a sprint.

    I hope he takes another 5 stages this year and good luck to him on that. Also good luck to Wiggins, Swift, Thomas, Miller and all the other Brits in the TdF - it's not that long ago that we had no riders in it.

  • Comment number 24.

    With the likelihood that the Sky track riders, Wiggins, Thomas and Swift, will be off preparing for the Olympics, having Cavendish in the squad for the 2012 Tour de France is critical for Sky. Sky is so heavily focussed on having British riders that they cannot do without him.

    On the other hand, Cav can be the focus of the team for 2012 TdF, can request and will get the team he asks for so its just about unimaginable that he won't go there. It is a match made in the proverbial heaven.

    Lastly, it is greatly disappointing that cycling is returning to a degree of nationalism where supporters barrack for so called 'national' teams such as Sky, Liquigas, Rabobank, Katusha and now GREENedge. I was much happier when the templates broke in the 90s and international teams bought the best riders they could afford and made decisions based on quality not flag.

  • Comment number 25.

    Good luck to Cav and all the Brits and Irish in the race. I think Nicholas Roche will have another good race.

    Its hard to look bast another Contador/Andy Schlek battle for yellow, but you never know, Gesnik could sneak in there also.

    I feel that Evans time, has come and gone, same for Klodden and Levi.

    I'd love to see Frank Schlek have a real go at it, but i guess he'll be doing the work for his brother, unless something happens to Andy.

    Team Sky will have a good tour and i think Wiggins will be easily in the top 10.

    I'm really looking forward to the TDF, especially the mountains, these guys are unbelievable, ita amazing to see them climbing the mountains, even the guys in the bus at the end of the day, are doing things most of us could only dream off, never mind the guys at the front.

  • Comment number 26.

    Regarding being the best sprinter you can't ever compare to the past but just a look video of Mark winning at the Champs Elysee shows he's the best in the business right now

    The bit I am talking about is at 1minute 40s
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    Jimbokav1971 wrote: "I think Cav is simply the nads!" yep completely agree there

  • Comment number 27.

    Thanks for the comments, all. Really interesting reading, particularly to see the division in opinion between those who feel the move to Sky beckons for Cavendish, and those who believe he's best off remaining at HTC.

    Time will tell but it was clear, in the two days we spent filming, just how (unsurprisingly) highly Cavendish is thought of at that team. I'm not joking when I say Brian Holm had the air of a grandfather about him. He spoke throughout the interview as though talking about a family member, and Allan Peiper's eyes lit up on the subject. The service course is full to the brim of Cavendish images and press cuttings.

    But that doesn't necessarily mean HTC is the right place for him in the future. Very few people - and certainly not yours truly - are in possession of the knowledge required to judge where the right place is, next year and beyond. Once the decision is made, I'll try to get another word with Mark and whichever team that happens to be.

    markholds, Patrick and Russian Blue felt I might have hedged my bets a bit, labelling Cavendish "arguably" the best sprinter and Merckx as "maybe" the greatest cyclist ever. Probably a fair criticism but you learn, in this job, to avoid such bold proclamations as there will always be plenty of people to shout you down. Particularly as I don't feel I'm qualified to be deciding who the greatest cyclist of all time is. That said, I think most would have trouble conjuring up an alternative to Merckx for that honour.

    Hopefully I'll see you all for a few Tour live texts over the next few weeks.

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm not working this July and can't wait for Saturday. I just hope that HTC and Cav can deliver the Green.
    Watching Wiggo and Team Sky is great. But it doesn't matter how good you are in GC unless you're up on the podium. But the Tour gets tougher as other teams target you, their competition.
    Watching Cav is just awesome, the anticipation of those last 275 meters ... wow. Let's hope THC can help him pick up points on the way.
    Roll on Saturday! Wishing you all a great Tour

  • Comment number 29.

    nice article Ollie, I follow Cav on Twitter and what you say sounds spot-on. We all see the glam part of cycling, standing on the podium being kissed by the dolly-birds, we don't necessarily think of the regular 4-hour (or more) training rides or the way-too-early-in-the-morning visits of the dope testers that are part and parcel of these guys' lives. Not to mention the vast amount of travelling that again just goes with their job. Cavendish and other pro cyclists give us that kind of insight through their tweets.

  • Comment number 30.

    Mikey - All pro tour teams have to have a certain number of riders (not sure exactly how many) from the country the team is based in on the squad so to some degree the teams have always been nationalistic. It doesn't mean though that Team Sky have to field an all British team or alternatively any British riders at all in a particular race.

  • Comment number 31.

    Whether or not he's the best sprinter around, he certainly created the biggest impression I've seen from a sprinter in the last couple of years with that electrifying finish down the Champs Elysees last year.

    If anyone can top that I'll consider they might be better than Cav. Until then, I think he's the best.

  • Comment number 32.

    @Comment 30, Jason
    There is no such obligation for the top World Tour teams or even the ProContinental teams. The continental teams, yes, but not any of the bigger teams. Look at Leopard Trek. A Luxembourg team with only 2 Luxembourg riders. And a few years ago, Astana were registered as Luxembourg for some reason - and they had no Luxembourg riders at the time. Also, the Farnese Viini - Neri team are registered as British this year, but they are very much Italian, and have no British riders.

  • Comment number 33.

    He's clearly the best sprinter around today, but he has a great team around him and in particular in Renshaw he has the best lead out man around.

  • Comment number 34.

    Cycling very similar to tennis tbh in terms of public perception except that because we have one of the biggest slams in the world it gets more coverage. Wimbledon being the equivalent of the Tour. Winning in Tennis in the Olympics is probably a similar achievement - like a minor Masters tournament!

  • Comment number 35.

    Don't be expecting too much from Thor this year...he's Farrars lead-out man afterall.

    Being Manx myself, there's absolutely no question that Cav is a legend, and with Kennaugh on the rise and Bellis recovering well, it's just a matter of time before Manx domination of the cycling world!! ;)

    Seriously though, the general public at large don't understand these grand tours. I've lost count of the amount of times i've had to explain why Cav will never win a yellow jersey at Le Tour despite winning as many stages as he does. The idea that the Olympics isn't the pinnacle, also seems to confuse.

  • Comment number 36.

    Just thought I'd add my name to the list of Mark Cavendish fans. I watch a lot of sport, and have seen a lot of top class performers, it's clear to me he is something special. Can't wait for the tour to begin...I'll be cheering him on in every stage.

  • Comment number 37.

    There are a few sporting events each year that I get really excited about. Le Mans, World Darts Championships, golf majors to name a few but none of them compare to the Tour. And in recent times nothing compares to Cav (and his team). Bring on Saturday!

  • Comment number 38.

    He should stay with HTC - if it's not broken why try to fix it? It's not going to be easy as new younger cyclists will start to copy his style, and the other teams will develop tactics to disrupt the HTC - as happened last year when Mark Renshaw was disqualified from the tour. As Lewis Carroll accurately described it - sometimes it takes all the running you can do, to stay in the same place.

  • Comment number 39.

    Should've been BBc Sports personality of the year IMO. Bags of talent and Bags of personality. Hope we see much more from Cav in the near future one of those flying the flag for British sport.

  • Comment number 40.

    Cav's a legend. Don't really need to say any more on that matter.

    Re the much rumoured move to Sky: I think it will come in the next few years, but it will be determined by Wiggins' ongoing performances in the Tour. My honest belief is that Wiggins is past his prime and doesn't have the weapons to compete for the podium. If this year's Tour backs that up, expect Cav's move to Sky to come sooner rather than later. I don't think that a British team has much hope when it comes to attracting possible winners of one of the Grand Tours so their glories will have to come elsewhere. Cav fits the bill nicely with his virtually guaranteed stage and classic wins. Whether Wiggins could humble himself to become one of Cav's lead out men is another matter altogether.....

  • Comment number 41.

    Deep-heat, its more that Wiggins isnt good enough to beat Contador/Schleck in the Mountains, not that he is 'past his prime'. Also, its possible to have GC guys and a Sprinter in a TDF team - Cav at Sky would not mean Wiggins would be needed to lead out.

  • Comment number 42.

    Surely as a Manxman,if Cav wins gold at the Olympics,it wil be for the IOM not Britain?Or is that just the Commonwealths?

  • Comment number 43.

    saddletramp - Just the Commonwealths. At the Olympics, Cavendish and other Manx athletes compete for Team GB.

  • Comment number 44.

    As a lover of most sports I came to road cycling only about 5 years ago - it took a while to understand it - but now I love it and having watched Cav emerge over those years has been a real treat. A lot of the problem with the publics perception, as others here have said, is a lack of understanding of how the team works and also the effect that conditions during the race can have on people - it took me a while to comprehend that they protect their sprinters from side winds, that you can get a tow from someones back wheel etc - for a lot of people in this country it's just too long winded and complicated (similar fates have befallen test cricket) - we seem to like our sport fast furious and short!! It's a great shame but their loss - though I think the highlight programs on ITV4 every day have helped.
    I will be watching tomorrow cheering the Brits on and hoping that someone can overcome Contador.....
    The Olympics will be a tough one for Cav - in the road race he will need other Brtish cyclists to sacrifice themselves - not sure that's going to happen.

  • Comment number 45.

    Cavendish is a brilliant rider and definitely the fastest man on a flat road but labelling the man a legend at 24 with no green jerseys in the tour, a single milan san remo victory and no other major classic wins seems a bit much. When I compare the palmares of true legends like Sean Kelly, Freddy Maertens and Roger De Vlaeminck and place it alongside Cavendish's, Cavendish's pales in comparison.

    HTC highroad has the mightiest team train for anyone on the flat with pretty much the whole team committing to the chase and a high quality sprinter like Renshaw (who could be a leader at a smaller team) leading him out. The photo in the report is of the 2009 Champs Elysee and Hincapie crushed the peloton and Renshaw led Cavendish out and could have won the stage himself (he finished 2nd). HTC also suicidally commit their GC men (Van Garderen, Velits and potentially Martin) to the chase unlike other teams like lampre where Cunego and Scarponi definitely will not work for Petacchi. The fact is HTC have two men who on their day can beat Cavendish (Goss and Renshaw) but kill themselves for his cause. Andre Greipel's struggles at OPL after leaving HTC show how important a team is as he is another blisteringly quick man.

    About Cavendish going to sky or staying at HTC, Sky would do themselves no good for themselves by signing Cavendish(their intention was to win grand tours not bunch sprints). HTC on the other hand is pulling out of sponsorship of the team and they haven't found a replacement title sponsor for next year so their immediate future is in doubt. It seems likely that he will leave HTC.

  • Comment number 46.

    avocadoflavourman - agreed it may be a bit early to call him a legend in the sport, he is unbelievably good at what he does, but legends have to have been at the top, consitantly, for quite a while to be titled 'a legend'.
    However, i'm pretty sure he won the points prize in the vuelta last year which in itself is one hell of an achievement...add on the 15 tour de france stage wins and it would be pretty hard to deny that he is heading towards legendary status....but that's just my humble opinion.
    He'll get the green this year. Come on Cav!

  • Comment number 47.

    IL76 - absolutely, i do believe that he is the fastest man in the peloton and if he can sustain this form over his career we may be talking about him maybe in the same breath as Cipo. I believe he is big favourite (even counting the stages in which echelons may form) to win the Green jersey this year and also see the likes of Tyler Farrar (who isn't in top form after losing his training mate Wouter Weylandt) not performing well in the overall green jersey. In fact with the number of short uphill finishes this year a person like gilbert or maybe an all round man like Jose Joaquin Rojas may finish very well.
    All I was saying was he needs to do more and try to win a lot more major races like Milan San Remo(like Zabel who helped him do a recon in 2009 when he won the MSR) as that is the only pure sprinters monument and Cavendish isn't a man who can ride on pave.

  • Comment number 48.

    Or a world championship or many more stages in the TDF Giro and Vuelta. I also wonder how he would do if he were in weakish team like Robbie McEwen in his prime.

  • Comment number 49.

    Correct, Cav is indeed a legend already and has the potential to grow the legend even more over the next 5-10 years. Not sure I'd like to see him at Sky as it really would be tricky to balance both his ambitions and those of a GC contender, we'll find out in September though I guess.

  • Comment number 50.

    Nice blog, Ollie. I actually got the link to it from a Cavendish tweet, so he must have liked it too! Good to see road cycling getting its due in a positive story rather than the usual trail of bad-news failed tests.

    Really looking forward to the start of the race tomorrow, and hope that everyone survives the Passage du Gois - even if it's the neutral part of the stage, I wouldn't put it past someone to fall off and get injured. Vive le Tour!

  • Comment number 51.

    Let's get some things straight. Some members of the press just need to take a long hard look at themselves and start doing their own jobs well. If they were anywhere near as good as Cav is at his, we might actually get some reporting worth taking any notice of.
    First and foremost: know the sport you're talking about, as otherwise you will justifiably be treated with disdain by interviewees asked to respond to inane comments. And by the way, the treatment given to journalists by so-called "prickly" sportspeople is nowhere near the vitriol they get from the press in return.
    Secondly: those "prickly" personalities are mostly absolutely nothing of the sort. It is a label invented by the press for people they don't know how to deal with because they don't conform to what the press in its ultimate wisdom considers to be acceptable (and we know how accurate that view is) or have made them look silly (unforgivable!).
    Thirdly: Cav IS ALREADY one of the greatest road sprinters in international professional cycling. He is already ahead of former greats like Maertens, Zabel and Cippollini at a similar career stage. Barring disaster he will end his career among the best of all time. And even if the wins dried up now, his would still be a massive achievement. Cav is a sprinting phenomenon – worldwide, never mind the UK. And if our press knew anything about the history of professional road racing they wouldn't need telling that. So, representatives of the media, please recognise the fact and start celebrating it!

  • Comment number 52.

    Look guys as usually you believe too much of the hype about British sportstars in the media. It is only in the last couple of years when he rose to prominence on the tour that the media started calling stage wins race wins. In 20 years of follwoing cycling this was a new phenomenon to me. I ackowledge his stage wins and it is a big achievement but also a somewhat hollow one when you look at his career.

    Mark Cavendish is a super fast sprinter and quicker than anyone else in a straight line right now. Don't confuse this with being a great cyclist. He has been fortunate to have a great team and lead out men but he doesn't make opportunities for himself to win stages other than a quick few hundred metre burst.

    Think about his career to date and what he has achieved, how many classics he has won ( a typically mark of an exceptional all round sprinter, he has won 1 in a five year career) all the complaining he does and how everyne is supposed to feel sorry for him not winning a stage. Then cast you mind back to all the great sprinters and tour and how they went about their business, how they won stages through pure grit and determination as well as straight line speed and finally how they didn't bottle it and just give up and moan if there was no opportunity to win. He doesn't win races on anything but the super flat finishes and he doesn't push himself to pick up points through the stages to get the green jersey. Mark will always be a super fast sprinter in the same way he will always have an extremely abrasive and quite frankly childish, immature and unprofessional personaily/attitude but he will never be a great cylist/sprinter as he doesn't have the mental aptitude or inner steel to be more than his fellow competitors who endure the same raceday hardships.

  • Comment number 53.

    Message 52

    Hope you enjoyed your slice of humble pie last night whilst watching the days highlights.

  • Comment number 54.

    I think you need to read my comment again and see that I said he is a very fast sprinter. I never stated that he couldn’t win a stage (he had already proved this). Hope you were watching last night when he finished well down the GC again. All I said was that he doesn’t have the tenacity or desire to scoop up intermediate sprints or the all round skills to hang in and put himself in a better position more regularly to win. I doubt he will win the green jersey this year again because of this and is relying on stage victories (a risky strategy which he has failed on the last 2 years).

  • Comment number 55.

    Lets get things in perspective, Cav is the most talented cyclist in the world at present, he is the Messi of cycling.
    Love the way everyone questions his attitude, go to the IoM and you will find out where that attitude comes from. To get on there you have to be honest and straight talking with measured compassion. To a manxie, Cav's attitude is text book and the way to go, hope he doesn't change.
    Cav gets more press internationally than he does in his native country, he has hero status in the community but is accepted as just an ordinary guy, probably because fame has not changed him, still one of the lads.
    Great stage 7 Cav, bring home the green.

  • Comment number 56.

    My take on comparing the best cyclist is that it is similar to comparing the best footballer - It's all a nonsense. Much as footballers have varied roles, so too do cyclists. Criticising Cav for not winning on cobbles or hauling himself up hills to try and get the yellow for a few days is like criticising a goalkeeper for not scoring more goals - neither are his job. The guy is designed for bunch sprints, and is arguably better at them than anyone else in history. He will never be a Merckx, and he will never be as good a time trialer as Cancellara or as good a climber as Contador - but that will not lessen his achievements.

    As an aside, only just noticed that those current 3 stars all have names beginning with 'C'. We really are blessed to have such great and varied talents as Contador, Cavendish, and Cancellara to watch. Vive Le Tour.

  • Comment number 57.

    Cavendish is the best sprinter I've seen in thirty years. Perfect instincts, and rips everyone's legs off when he throws the bike. As for the gripes about his being "spiky," if we replaced the term "professional sports" with "commercial sports," it would eliminate some of the confusion born of misplaced idealism. Blind aggression wins races, but that quality scares the timid souls who don't have it. I certainly don't have it, but the tens of thousands of road miles I have under my butt have taught me a few things about who prevails and who doesn't, and why. If drowning a kitten would get you a TDF stage win, would you do it? I didn't think so. Neither would I. But I can name an American cyclist who would have.

  • Comment number 58.

    Only just read this piece so sorry for joining the party a little late.

    Have to take issue with Phil (52). Since when do stage wins not count as professional career wins? You must have been following a different version of cycling to me. All wins count as a 'race win' whether they be a 8km prologue, sprint stage, one day race or overall Grand Tour and everything in between. Your post seems to suggest that only GC winners of stage races or one day classic race wins count as actual wins?

    And Phil again, point 54, I see Cav has also contested most of the intermediate sprints this time round. The only other green jersey contender who has been as prominent as him at the intermediate sprints has been Rojas. Gilbert just does not have the sprinting speed and has begun to fade before the real sprints have started although I love his attacking style. In other words, there is very little to criticise in Cav's approach so far.

    Regarding your comment that he lacks tenacity or the desire to get himself into winning positions more regularly I would love to know which other cyclists put themselves in a position to win more regularly than him? What should he be doing differently? He plays to his strengths (why would he do otherwise?) and looks well on course to win green this time around as well as collecting a few stage wins.

  • Comment number 59.

    First of all how can Mark Cavendish be allowed to ride for Great Britain? Unless the Isle of Man has achieved a different status that I haven't heard about.

    Secondly whilst in no doubt that Cavendish is a brilliant sprinter to compare him to Eddy Merckx is beyond the pale. You have to remember that Merckx won those 34 stages whilst winning the Tour de France 5 times, an incredible achivement. That's not to mention him winning the Giro d'italia 5 times, the World Championship 4 times and holding the hour record as well.

    It seems that Cavendish is just content to win stages, which is fine but if you talk about Merckx,Hinault,Armstrong etc do you think of how many stages they won or how many tours they won? Ultimately it's all about the winning the big ones which Cavendish dosen't seem interested in.

  • Comment number 60.


    The Isle of man is a self-governing British Crown Dependency. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is represented by a Lieutenant Governor. The island is not part of the United Kingdom, but its foreign relations and defence are the responsibility of the UK Government. Although it does not usually interfere in the island's domestic matters, its "good government" is ultimately the responsibility of the Crown (i.e., in practice, the Government of the United Kingdom).

    If that is not sufficient, (and it might not be), then his mum is English and comes from Yorkshire, (so Cav is qualified to represent Britain, the land of his mothers birth).

    I sort of get your point about comparing Cav to Merckx but I also think that as much as it proves your point, it also proves it the other way. Cav has won all these stages, (and another one today), but he has done so with the obvious limitations of not even being able to challenge for mountainous stages, (so I might argue that Merckx had far more opportunities to win stages).

    Nobody is suggesting that Cav is the best Grand Tour rider of all time and I would go far as to say that it is almost impossible to compare riders like this who have such different roles in a team.

    Cav is never going to win a TdF and isn't as likely as someone like Gilbert for example to go and win a classic. His role within his team us to go and win certain stages and races and he does just that.

    From my limited knowledge, professional cycling has become far more about the "team" than the "individual" and as money and exposure and sponsors are so important now, the exposure and instant gratification of a stage win has now become more important than in days gone by.

    HTC have been ridiculously successful at this and have done so with a style that seems at odds with maybe what we used historically to grade or judge success. Fortunately/unfortunately depending on your position, things change with the times and now individual stages are classed as races within races, (remember it's a professional sport and in professional sport it is all about money), so HTC emplys Cav to do what he does best and makes best use of it's resources for the greatest possible return.

    In trying to compare the likes of Cav to GC greats such as Merckx or Armstrong, I see that similar to trying to compare a midfielder to a striker or a centre-back in football, (or a winger to a No 8 in rugby).

    The way that professional cycling has developed is that now there are very defined roles within a team and with the increased pressures from sponsors for success and exposure, someone like Cav has become more valuble within a team.

    If you are a sponsor, are you going to pay more for Cav to wear your name emblazoned all over him when he might win 5-7 stages during a tour, or to sponsor the likes of either Schleck, Contador, Wiggins or Evans who will hide for much of the tour surrounded by their mates and then go and win the tour by performing on 1 tough mountain stage and then hanging on for dear life while someone else batters them in the Time Trial?

    If I was a sponsor then I know where I think woudl get me the most exposure.

    You are right that it is impossible to compare Cav to GC greats of the past, (and it is something that should be avoided).

    Although I am not that knowledgable myself, I have some little knowledge of cycling and I am aware od something called the Vélo d'Or which is an award that is commonly recognised as the most prestigious award withn professional cycling and is awarded to the cyclist who has performed the best over the course of the year.

    Although it was first awarded only as fas back as the early 90's, it readls like a who's who of professional cycling, (I'm sure you know this anyway).

    So while my knowledge of cycling is limted to the likes of Cippolini, Abdujabarov, Zabel, and Cav, a glance at the Vélo d'Or awards shows me that the most prestigious award within pro cycling, (and this are not my words), do recognise the acheivements of these "new" sprinters.

    Cippolini was the first to introduce the tactic that we now know as the lead-out train and Cav and HTC are just taking it to new levels. He is being the best at what he is good at. It seems pretty sensible to me.

    The Vélo d'Or wasn't in existance when Merckx was riding and had it been I have absolutely no doubt that he would have won it, (like everything else), on numerous occasion, (as Armstrong did).

    Cav came 2nd in this award on 2009 and I would suggest that he is in contention again this year with the likes of Gilbert. Who is more worthy of recognition? These 2 or the likes of Evans, Schleck or Contador who hide in the pack for most of the tour while these guys are duking it out?

    I think Merck and Armstrong stand alone within cycling due to what they have acheived, but I also think that Cav is re-writing the record books as far as sprinting is concerned and I do not think that "legend" is too strong a word to describe him.



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