One Way to Ride
Tracing Mark Cavendish's Mindset
He's perceived as a bit of a hardass. A bit arrogant. Very intense. There are elements of his personality that don't paint Mark Cavendish in the most favorable light. But then again, he's a world-class cyclist. In particular, he's a world-class sprinter; arguably the greatest sprinter in the world. He needs to have the utmost confidence and belief that after however-many hundreds of miles he's logged, that when the race or stage dwindles from hundreds of miles to hundreds of feet, he has the physical and mental wherewithal to perform in a manner that leaves no wiggle-room for error. So, yeah, he's not a strong candidate to be a kindergarten teacher. If you've put your mind and body through the rigorous preparation that he has, your edges end up a bit hardened.
The guy admits that his success and style of riding are largely influenced by a willingness to suffer, which will also impact the final personality product: "In my opinion, in cycling, I don’t think people suffer enough, which is good for me," Cavendish says. "If other people suffered more, I’d win less."
Cavendish has been sculpted by the life and lifestyle he's chosen. Developing his passion for cycling on the Isle of Man, a place that sees few bluebird days and is hardly an ideal destination for a leisurely ride, he learned to ride one way, as you'll read shortly. But Isle of Man is but one place that has come to define or represent an element of who Mark Cavendish is as a person. We spoke to Mark and had him identify the places – be it a special stage, a particular ride or even a race as a whole – that mean something to him, that stand out from all the places he's been in the world. What follows are those four places, in Cav's own words.
A Stage Above All Others
Champs-Élysées is pretty tough. It’s a stage that’s just so hard to get right. When I first turned professional, my first roommate, Andreas Klier, he said to me, I think you’re going to be the best sprinter of all time, but I don’t think you’ll win on the Champs-Élysées. It’s a hard sprint to win. It’s hard to judge your distance, it’s slightly uphill, it’s on cobbles. Now I’m the record holder for the amount of stages won there, but it’s actually a really hard sprint to get right. The finish line from the last corner is just a little bit too far to go from the corner. I’ve gone from the corner in the past, but I have to be just that much better than everyone. It’s just too short to be able to get wide a powerful corner and then hit late, you really have to get it nailed.
It’s the Holy Grail of sprinting. It has that reputation for two reasons: 1) because it’s the same every year, it’s a measurable sprint; and 2) because you finish the Tour de France. You got through that three weeks for this chance to sprint on probably the most beautiful street, the most beautiful avenue in the world; it’s something that gives you goose bumps just to think about. A lot of the great sprinters have won there, some of the great sprinters like [Erik] Zabel never won there.
Isle of Man
“There’s one way to ride…”
Whenever I’m back on the Isle of Man, I’m out and it's not just me on my own, it’s not me being a professional and training hard, I’m there with the same guys I grew up with. I’ve got to train and I get to train with guys who I rode with when I was 13 years old and I ride with guys who are now 13 years old. Every day – and it’s pretty cool actually – there’s a meeting point and it doesn’t matter whether it’s pissing rain or it’s sunny or it’s windy, you know every day at 9:15 there’ll be at least one or two people there. Now, they could be professionals, it could be a junior rider, it could be a club rider; you know there’s always guaranteed to be one or two other people there to ride with. And there’s only one way to ride on the Isle of Man… and that’s f--kin’ hard. The weather is pretty shit most of the year, it’s windy every day. It’s a beautiful place, but you have to go hard. And for me when I go there I’m not a professional no more. I’m riding my bike for the same reason when I was 13.
Made For Cyclists
Italy is where cycling grew up. I train in Tuscany, riding around the hills with a couple guys who grew up around there. The place is steep in history. The old guys still worship cyclists; they know everything you do, they know your next race – it’s pretty cool. The terrain’s made for cyclists, the weather’s made for cyclists, the food’s made for cyclists, and the lifestyle is made for cyclists. But it’s more of a professional thing there. I love it there, I really love it there.
The One That's Managed to Get Away
Gent-Wevelgem. The Belgian classic has always been considered one of the races that all the world’s greatest riders have won and have on their palmares. I should have won it by now; I don't know why I haven't. There’s obviously more dreams like Paris-Roubaix, but I think I’m f--ked at ever getting a crack at that one. But Gent-Wevelgem, for sure, it’s always kind of eluded me. That's one I really would like to get before I stop competing.