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Mark Cavendish in his own words

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As a media outlet, gaining exclusive inside access to a cyclist suddenly becomes much easier when you are also the title sponsor of his new team – and therefore footing the bill for his not inconsiderable salary. So it was that Sky Sports aired a half-hour special on Monday night entitled Mark Cavendish: Sprint King, which promised unprecedented insight into the mind of the Great Britain and now Team Sky world champion.

The programme was broadcast without a great deal of advance fanfare – I only found out about it on the morning of the transmission – but it did indeed provide some interesting minutiae and insights about the world of the fastest man on two wheels and a look into the mind of a man who is simultaneously shy and yet supremely confident. I have reproduced the key highlights below – here is the Manx Missile in his own words.

On being a perfectionist:

Perfection is perfection – and everything below perfection is not good enough.

On his love of cycling:

I love it, I absolutely love it. The day I stop loving it is the day I’ve got to retire.

On why he’s different to other sprinters:

I’m a little bit different to the other sprinters. You look at them, most of them are big powerhouses. They’re big guys like Thor Hushovd, [Alessandro] Petacchi – they put up nearly 2,000 watts, 1,800 watts in a sprint and just power themselves to the line.

Now I can put up to about 1,600 watts – that’s when I’m training. Naturally I put about 1,300 watts out, which is 25% less. But I’m incredibly efficient. I’ve got tiny little short legs. I’m able to save a lot of energy during the stage because I’m smaller and hide in the wheels.

And then if you see us sprint, with a lot of guys it’s like power-lifting on a bike. They get on to the finish, they pull an ugly face, they’re up there, you know [he sits upright] and they’re putting that much watts. But I get right over [he mimes leaning over the handlebars]. I haven’t worked on it. It just came naturally – I always got over the front end of the bike.

On how Team Sky is changing the British public’s perception of cycling:

We’ve got our own professional team now. You know, it’s like following a football team. It’s not like following individuals doing their things. We’ve got a national team to back as a nation now, which is pretty special.

On his pride in representing his country at the Road World Championships in September, which he won to become only the second British road world champion ever:

I think any British person who likes sport will know that it’s always special to represent your country – especially for me. I think the biggest thing about Copenhagen, the Worlds, was pulling on that Union flag jersey.

On the challenge of racing with yellow jersey contender (and former Madison partner) Bradley Wiggins in the same team:

We”ll have a TV show, I reckon – one we’ll call the Brad and Mark Show – or the Mark and Brad Show.

If I didn’t think it was possible to win the yellow and green jersey at the same time I wouldn’t be at Team Sky next year, and I’m at Team Sky next year so I think it’s very possible. With the riders they’ve got, with the infrastructure they’ve got, it’s very, very possible to do.

On what it feels like in the final kilometres of a stage:

I’m a little bit weird. I see things kind of different to a lot of people. You hear me talk about the last kilometres of a race, it’s almost like Rain Man-ish. I remember it photographically. I remember not just every sprint I’ve won, but every sprint I do I can remember. Not even just remember – it’s as if I’m doing it in slow motion. Everything slows down – I think it’s called ‘the zone’ –  that’s what happens. You’re tunnelled out. Nothing else, nothing that’s going on around you matters. It’s what you have to do. You see the gaps, you see the movement, you see where you have to go.

On whether cycling deserves its tag as a sport for dopers:

In my eyes cycling is the cleanest sport around now. The last three years I’ve had over 60 doping tests every year. I was the most tested athlete on the planet in 2009 and 2010.

The fact that people get caught – I think you’ve got to open your mind to the fact there’s not as many positive tests in other sports, or is there? You can’t say nobody in other sports cheats. You can’t say nobody in any other aspect of life cheats. Anywhere where there’s money to be gained people are going to cheat.

Because of what people have done in the past, cycling doesn’t want that again. People say “Oh, there’s been a positive test in cycling.” Yeah, because they’re doing the things to catch them. And when they are catching them they don’t care about the image of the sport, the franchise of the sport. They care about making a clean and fair sport, so they’re making an example of these people.

On how doping in cycling has reduced in recent years:

I don’t know if I’m being naive or what. Maybe I am being naive but I don’t think so. You know, I race with those guys every day and since I started racing pros in 2005 I’ve noticed a difference in the sport. There’s not people doing superhuman things like Riccardo Riccò did any more. There’s a bigger group at the finish and everybody’s on their hands and knees. There’s nobody just bouncing around fresh as a daisy after a stage.

On the frustration of people assuming all cyclists dope:

It’s such a hard sport, you know. It’s so frustrating. You work so hard. I ride 50,000km a year. Less than half of that is racing, so I have to do the rest training to make sure I’m good for those races. When I put all that work in and somebody says “Oh, you cyclists just dope” it winds me up, it really, really gets to me.

On his split personality on and off the bike:

My character on a bike is a lot different from my normal character. I put so much into my cycling. I do every single little detail on my bike so I am so confident in that. But because you can’t put that much detail into your normal life, I’m actually quite an insecure person.

And finally, on what winning Olympic gold next summer would mean to him:

It’s an Olympic gold, you know. It means a lot to any British sportsman.

The Olympics was never a big thing in the world of cycling, so it wouldn’t make me any bigger in the history books of cycling, which are important to me to be in.

On a personal level for sure it would be a massive, massive thing. I’m British at the Olympics in London in the road race, and doing it with a team which should be the strongest there – it will be a proud moment if we win.

What is particularly noticeable about Cavendish from both this and previous interviews is that – for all his reputation (only occasionally deserved) as a hot-headed, shoot-from-the-hip loud-mouth – he is a thoughtful individual who is obsessive about the split-second tactical decisions which are crucial in the final metres of a bunch sprint. Given the opportunity, he gives incredibly detailed and analytical responses, and is happy to voice his real opinion on matters rather than offer only the pat PR-approved answers. Even in the Sky interview, it is clear from the frequent edits that he is a man with a lot to say.

Some riders are happy to hop off their bike at the end of a stage and never give any thought as to tactics or preparation for the next day’s racing. Others live in a cocoon in which the outside world might as well not exist. Cavendish is neither of those beasts. Whether you agree with his views or not, he is unfailingly honest and straightforward – he calls the world as he sees it. And even if he wasn’t wearing the world champion’s rainbow jersey which he will sport throughout 2012, the professional peloton would be a far less colourful place without him in it.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

2 Responses to Mark Cavendish in his own words

  1. Sheree says:

    Missed the programme so it was nice to read your summary. I wouldn’t call myself a big Cav fan but I warmed to him when I met him. Like a lot of us he’s different away from the office. I have encouraged everyone I know in the UK to vote for him as SPoY.

    Hope you’ve recovered from the office party.

    • Tim says:

      The upside of having to drive home last night was that I only had a couple of drinks and bounced out of bed with a clear head this morning … 🙂

      He certainly seems an interesting fella, Cav. In some ways he’s hopelessly inarticulate, in others incredibly so. More so than with most other sportsmen, I do get the feeling that what you see is what you get, it’s just that some choose to spin that in a negative light.

      Naturally I’ll be voting for him next Thursday!

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