Sprint cycling star Mark Cavendish believes his teams have a crucial psychological edge for Tour de France and London 2012, he says in an interview with The Telegraph:
Cavendish has done his bit all right. The sprinter has just enjoyed the greatest year any British cyclist has ever experienced. He was the first Briton to win the sprint title at the Tour de France then followed up by winning the world championships in Copenhagen, the first time someone from these islands has topped the podium in 46 years. For his jaunt with his fans, the young Manxman was wearing the champion’s jersey, with its rainbow stripes across the chest.
“Every time I put this jersey on I get quite emotional,” he said, feeling the fabric between his thumb and forefinger. “It makes it pretty special to get your kit every day.”
Cavendish is often portrayed as a sharp-edged, dour, abrasive character. But after his fan ride he was in undeniably good cheer, his grin barely dulled from the ecstatic, triumphant smile he gave as he crossed the line in Copenhagen.
“It’s the biggest one-day race in the world,” he said. “If your aim is the history books, you have to win it. And I did. So I was smiling all right.”
It was, Cavendish reckoned, an extraordinary performance in Copenhagen: not just a victory for Britain after so many barren decades, but the manner in which it was achieved. “It was a three-year plan. We had the best bunch of British riders there has ever been. And the eight guys rode incredibly. We controlled the world champs from start to finish in a way no one had ever seen before.”
It was, he was quick to acknowledge at the time, a team performance. Yet it was him wearing the rainbow jersey yesterday, a privilege uniquely his for the next 12 months.
“Sometimes I ask why it’s an individual award. If I could take these bands and give the other lads one each I would. It’s how it is. But for a British rider, after 46 years, it is an incredible thing. My job in the Tour is to get the sponsor’s logo in the most prominent place. All the lads are working for that. For the world champs it was about getting GB up front. We showed the world we can control the championships; not just win, but control how the whole race panned out. That’s quite a dominating thing to have. Psychologically, the other teams now know who rules.”
Even more so now that most of the British talent will be, from the start of the new season on Jan 1, corralled into one team: Sky.
“I kind of always felt I would end up with them,” admitted Cavendish, who, for the time being, is still wearing his now-defunct HTC team colours. “It’s logical. It’s the best team, it has got the best back-up and it’ll be good to ride with guys who I will ride with at the Olympics. For British cycling it’s the right move.”
And Cavendish is convinced that it will work, despite the fact that until now all the team’s efforts have been concentrated on trying to put Bradley Wiggins into contention in the race for the overall winner’s yellow jersey. “You’ll have to ask Dave Brailsford [director of Sky],” was all he would say about how resources will be split to support him in the sprint at the same time as Wiggins’s dash for yellow.
“But listen,” he added. “I wouldn’t have joined them if I didn’t think it was possible [to go for both].”
One thing is certain: it will be a frantic time for the Sky team for the next 12 months. Six days after the end of the Tour they will be in GB vests, speeding round London trying to secure a gold medal for Cavendish in the Olympic road race.
“You have to say it’s not ideal,” he said of the timetable. “But it will be the same for all the riders. It’s going to be a hard race to control. But the way we ran the Worlds, we can be one of the favourites. And being on home soil will be the bigger motivation”
For now, though, it is back to training. After a week in Dubai “doing absolutely nothing”, he is back in the saddle, riding the 10 miles after the fan event back to his girlfriend’s Essex home.
“I need to be on a bike, mentally as much as physically,” he said. “I’m never really satisfied. I like to achieve my targets, but I’ve got no time to linger and look back. I have to move on to the next target. I’ve got a maximum 10 more years in my career. After that, I’ll have all the time in the world to look back. For now, I’ve only got time to look forward.”