Feature: The Power of ‘Cav’ – Mark Cavendish

Revolution 34 shows the that the pulling power of ‘Cav’ is reaching ever increasing heights

Larry Hickmott writes … I’ve been attending the Revolution meetings for many years, since 2003, and never seen anything like Saturday night. Sure, there have been many a sell out night at the Manchester Velodrome but for the first time, it wasn’t just the fans that were in track centre. The media centre was packed with journalists from national newspapers and photographers as well.

And the reason was one man, Mark Cavendish.

For the true cycling fan, that is like a slap in the face for the Revolution meeting itself when one person becomes bigger than the event itself. In the old days, when the six day stars would race the Manchester boards, or the French and Dutch sprinters would come and entertain the crowd, the meetings were just as exciting as the one last Saturday but for different reasons. It was a collective excitement with the show stoppers like Arnaud Tournant or Franco Marvulli doing their best to put smiles on the faces of the crowd.

Last Saturday the crowd came to see one person, Mark Cavendish. Or, if the noise was anything to go, that is certainly how it seemed!

Two riders who have supported the event for many years, Iljo Keisse and Franco Marvulli were there on behalf of the six day stars but there wasn’t the Madison events for them to thrill the crowd in the way they would in Europe. There were also some sprinters who are right up there with the very best in the World. Matt Crampton for example is European Sprint Champion and that doesn’t come easy with the talent in European Sprinting!

But as great as they all are, there was still only one man the crowd and the journalists wanted to see – Mark Cavendish. I remember feeling quite disappointed though when Cavendish  didn’t win the first race as I have seen Bradley Wiggins do in past meetings so even I was getting caught up in all the hype.

But great deeds are worth waiting for and the win in the final race was quite something. Not just because I know these races are no longer ‘shows’ and the suffering you see on riders faces is very real but also because ‘Cav’ gave the crowd something they had queued up to see three hours before, – a win by the World Road race Champion. Never before had that been seen at a Revolution.

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It wasn’t just the crowd though who had to sit patiently for Cavendish. The press too were queuing to have a word with a sporting superstar. Photographers I normally only see at World Cups or World Championships were pointing their cameras at Cav on the track and in his ‘pen’  and the written media were warming up their recorders and notepads to talk to some one who’s image and words are all over the press seemingly every week.

In between sweating it out on the track with riders who are working out on the boards day in, day out while he keeps his sponsors happy at events, Mark was talking the talk to a procession of journalists. His words were soon on the internet, even before the event was over, and in print the next day and he’s certainly widely quoted. One of the topics being discussed is Cav’s chances at being the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Revolution 34 commentator Hugh Porter certainly did his bit to ‘big up’ Cav’s chances by urging every one of the 4,000 in the crowd at Revolution 34 to vote for him.

The last time a cyclist won the BBC gong was 2008 and that rider was Sir Chris Hoy who is training hard in Perth right now. Chris though was an Olympic hero, something the public can identify with but even his winning was a surprise because despite the enormity of his achievement, we’re just not used to cyclists being sporting hero’s in Britain.

The last one was perhaps the late great Tom Simpson. Like ‘our Cav’, Tom wore the rainbow stripes on the road and was also rewarded with the BBC Sports Personality of the year award. It was the time when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the Beatles were number 1 and Merseyside reigned in English football. It was also way before any of today’s stars including Cavendish were born.

2003, Solihull Road Race and Cavendish is already throwing his arms in the air.

In the Telegraph, Cavendish says “who’d have thought cycling would be mainstream a few years ago? A cyclist who hadn’t won the Olympics would be in the running for Sports Personality? Even just talking about it just shows how big cycling is now.”

But a mainstream sporting hero is what Mark is in 2011. The Isle of Man cyclist is now on shows like Top Gear Live, Soccer AM, Breakfast, Channel 4 News (and more) and is then pictured with the Prime Minister and two of motor racing’s big stars, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

If ever there was a year that Mark should and can win this major sporting accolade in the eyes of the general public, it is now. He may not be as big in Britain as he is cycling mad countries like Belgium etc but then again, maybe, just maybe, he is.

I’m not sure the general public will ever grasp the enormity of winning a Green Jersey in the Tour de France but winning twenty stages of the World’s biggest race doesn’t take a lot of understanding to realise that it’s special; very special. And winning a World road race title in the manner Great Britain did, the first since Tom Simpson (1965) for the men, is always going to be an ‘achievement’ in the eyes of the public.

But for Cavendish I suspect, a person who knows the sport inside out and is a ‘fan’ of it as he has been since he started racing as a kid under the watchful eye of Dot Tilbury on the Isle of Man, winning the Sports Personality of the Year award doesn’t rate as highly as many of his goals next year on the bike in new colours, Team Sky.

It’s going to be one of those years, 2012, for Cavendish. So many goals to go for and to make it more interesting, he’ll have not only a load of his old academy teammates to help him in a new team, but he’ll also be doing it on a new bike and in new colours. We all know how long it took Team Sky to find its feet in the World Tour peloton and we can only hope Cavendish finds his rhythm in the racing quicker in the new team.

World champions — the first World title for Mark came in 2005 with Rob Hayles. Seen here at Revolution in 2005.

He’s lost his main man in the leadout, Mark Renshaw as well, so there are many new variables to deal with in 2012.

But, and this is a big but, by his side will be the man who has masterminded his success from the very start when Cav came out of the Junior ranks and into the GB team, Rod Ellingworth. Even outside of Team Sky, Rod has never lost contact with Cavendish and he’ll be a lynchpin for Cav and his ambitions in 2012.

Talking to  William Fotheringham in the Guardian, a paper that more than any other supports the sport of cycling these days, like the Telegraph used to in the 90’s, Ellingworth says “he (Cavendish) knows how big it (the London Olympic Road Race) will be, second or less is failure in his view and there’s more chance of failing than winning.”

Cavendish though according to Fotheringham simply says “It is realistically do-able. It’s going to be hard but that makes it even more worthwhile if I win.”

So much of what Cav does between now and the season start will be crucial and Ellingworth who has grown up as a coach in the era of ‘marginal gains’ already has his guiding hand on making sure Cavendish is going in the right direction. Right now, Cavendish does seem rather pre-occupied with things away from cycling if his Twitter feed is any measure of what he’s up to but that will surely change as his training takes priority.

Ellingworth, again talking to Fotheringham, says “For the moment all Mark has to do is ride his bike, nothing else. That means about two to four hours a day, five days a week. No big efforts, not busting his balls, if he’s in a group and someone is lifting the pace he can just go at his pace. The key thing over the next few months will be to build up slowly, so you never have to try to get fit too quickly. There is a total amount of energy you can spend over the year and if you are behind where you want to be in January or February, you can end up chasing it.”

The team Sky race coach may have only had a few years on the WorldTour circuit but he’s been Mark’s coach since 2004 and seen it all, the highs and lows in training and racing. No-one knows Cav better, not even his pregnant wife Peta. Certainly not when it comes to matters of the bike and getting every bit of energy out of the World champion.

So. 2012. What will Cavendish be gunning for? “It’s going to be a big July,” says Cavendish in yet another interview, this one in the Telegraph. “The Tour de France and a tilt at another Green jersey and then the Olympics only six days later.”

But the plan for the season is already in place he says and one of his peaks will be July. The whole  of July!

That leaves the early season unaccounted for but that too is on the schedule. Understandably, the winner of Milan San Remo in 2009 has that race down as a target too. In a question and answer interview with the Bicycling Magazine in America, he says “I always said I dreamed of winning Milan–San Remo in the World Champion’s jersey and that has not changed.”

“I just need to be on good form. I’ll be three years older than last time and I know I’ll have the best team to do it with.”

To be in good form, he has to train but where? For a long time he’s trained in Italy and admits that he still has a place there which will be useful when it comes to training for the Tour de France. But the classics, well, it’s Essex of course!

2008 and the second Rainbow jersey, this one with Bradley Wiggins at Manchester in the Madison.

“That’s the way it is” he told Bicycling.  “I met a great girl (Peta Todd) who I love. I’m going to settle down now. She already has a son so she needs to be there for him. I stayed there some this year and it’s really nice. There are little tiny lanes to ride on. It’s true that there are no real climbs, which will be difficult. But there are a lot of lanes and lots of wind so that will help me get ready for the classics.”

So there you have it, want to train for the classics, Essex is your place. I know one rider who will be made up with that – Essex’s own, Alex Dowsett who will be training alongside Mark and also racing with him as a member of Team Sky.

Who knows, perhaps both will race a classic that is part of the WorldTour in 2012 and will be longer as well at 235 kilometres.  Gent-Wevelgem. The list of formers winners is a who’s who of sprinters; Boonen, Hushovd, Cipollini, Steels, Kelly, Bontempi, Vanderaeden, Raas, Abdoujaparov, Maertens, Merckx and a Brit called Barry Hoban.

Whilst Cav has eclipsed what Hoban did in the Tour de France, Cav is yet to win this race and he’s said its one of the boxes he’d like to tick. Roger Hammond came close in 2007 (2nd) as did Magnus Backstedt (2004) and perhaps Cavendish in 2012 can add his name to that illustrious roll call. Doable yes. Will it happen? Maybe.

Since this was taken, Mark has been cleaning up without the aid of any washing powder!

Another target, curiously in a packed programme, is the Points jersey at the Tour of Italy. Winning that would certainly put him into a select group of riders who have won the Points jersey in all three Grand Tours (Spain, Italy and France). Those who have managed it includes the likes of Eddy Merckx (the Cannibal who won everything – almost), Frenchman  Laurent Jalabert, a rider still sprinting in the pro peloton Alessandro Petacchi and the ‘mad’ Russian, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.

Perhaps, with the road worlds next year probably not being a target for Cavendish due to the hilly  nature of the course, the two Grand Tours he’ll do will be the Giro and the Tour de France. If its doable, certainly Cavendish and his backroom team such as Ellingworth, will have already thrashed that out and 2012 certainly appears to be as classic a year as Revolution 34 was a classic night. Both  with Cav as the centre piece.

2012 has a lot to live up to but if anyone can deliver in the face of tough odds, its Mark Cavendish.

Links worth exploring!
Guardian Article 1 | Guardian Article 2 | Telegraph Article 1

Your Say? Is Cav the best rider from Britain Ever? Should everyone vote for Mark in the BBC Sports Personality Awards? Give us your feedback on this super athlete on our Facebook page

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