Mark Cavendish celebrates after winning his first stage at thisTour de France – GETTY IMAGES. It has been a great , who has won two sprints already at this year’s Tour de France to claim the green jersey and move to within two stages of Eddy Merckx’s record. But how did it happen?
How did a 36-year-old without a team eight months ago and without a win in almost three years rediscover his mojo? Tom Cary explains how the love and support of his family, the faith of Patrick Lefevere, the firepower of Deceuninck-QuickStep’s famed ‘Wolfpack’, a new coach, and a new bike all helped to get the Manx Missile back on track.
While others may have lost faith in him, Cavendish never lost faith in himself. Even during the dark, when he was at loggerheads with his teams, nursing injuries, or battling mental health demons, he continued to insist – when asked – that he felt he could compete at the top level. He would say his training numbers were good; he just needed a clear run of fitness and up.
He continued toto prove it, too, flogging himself on training camps near his house in Quarrata, Italy, or hitting the turbo in lockdown. It speaks volumes for Cavendish’s self-belief and love for the sport that he never because he certainly didn’t continue for the money.
Although Cavendish has extraordinary reserves of self-confidence, there were, of course, times when it wavered. Arguably the most crucial factor, at least in terms of his mental health. He was diagnosed with clinical depression in August 2018, shortly after he was forced to abandon that year’s11 (little did he realize it at the time, but he was, in fact, still struggling with the effects of Epstein-Barr virus).
At these moments, the support of his family was crucial. Cavendish may show a spiky, sometimes even bolshy, side of himself to the world at times, but he is a doting dad and incredibly proud of his four children: Finnbarr, Delilah, Frey, and Casper.
Lockdown, while frustrating, was an opportunity to connect with them on a deeper level, and he loved that, posting pictures of himself building model Power Rangers or sitting at the sewing machine “putting a hem into a DIY den for the kids”, or with the whole family doing PE with Joe Wicks.
After he won on Tuesday, a video his wife Peta sent him of his “cycling-obsessed” three-year-old Casper celebrating was like food for his soul. He was thrilled. Peta, he says, has been a rock during this. “She has believed in me more than I have believed in myself at times,” Cavendish wrote in a Telegraph Sport column before the started.
There is no chance this comeback would happen were it not for Cavendish’s move to Deceuninck-QuickStep this year. Patrick Lefevere took a punt, offering the Briton a place on the team if he could bring a sponsor with him, which he duly did. “He gave me a chance when many in his position would never have, and I will never forget that,” Cavendish says.
With the return to QuickStep, Cavendish again became part of the famed ‘Wolfpack’. The Belgian squad has a reputation as the best classics/one-day/sprint team globally. It boasts an incredible roster of riders, including the current, Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel, Tour of Flanders winner Kasper As Green, and a host of other hitters. The winning mentality in that team must be infectious.
Cavendish has repeatedly said what an honor it is to be part of such a crack squad, to be led out by the likes of Alaphilippe, given his aspirations in this race. Special mention must also be made of Michael Morkov, the Dane generally acknowledged as the most OK lead-out man globally.
Now that Cavendish has shown himself to be the fastest sprinter out here, they, in turn, are showing more and more confidence in him. It’s a virtuous circle. The spirit has seeped back, allowing his legendary racecraft and instincts to come to the fore again. It has been like watching the old Cavendish this.
New team, new start., Cavendish has a new coach in the shape of ex-rider Vasilis Anastopoulos, about whom he has been very complimentary. “When we first met, within five to 10 minutes, there was a solid connection between us,” Anastopoulos told Cycling Weekly. They raced on the track almost 20 years ago at Revolution Series meetings.
Cavendish, for his part, describes the Greek as “wicked, really chilled out”. Not too chilled out, though. Cavendish has often spoken about how training on the boards helps to hone the speed in his legs. A photo of Cavendish collapsed in a heap in the Athens velodrome, which the Manxman posted on his Instagram feed earlier this, provides a clue about the kind of efforts Anastopoulos has him making.
It was one of the reasons he gave for his four know what’s best for him now.for Dimension Data in 2016, having switched from Deceuninck-QuickStep the previous winter. In those days, QuickStep was somewhat less keen on their star sprinter spending time on the boards. They paid him to , not to help his Olympic aspirations. They
The final piece of the jigsaw. Cavendish has made no secret that he is happy to be back on a bike that “fits” him this. He rides a Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 fitted with Turbo Cotton clincher tires. Despite a couple of issues – his saddle rails snapping mid-stage on Tuesday and his chain falling off after his sprint on Thursday -he is delighted with it.
Asked this, Cavendish thought momentarily. “You can call it excuse-making or passing the blame, but I knew the ingredients I needed,” he said. “I that functioned as a team and a bike that fitted me. I had neither of those things.”