Whither Cav? Is that it, have we seen the last of the greatest sprinter in Tour de France history? Is it chapeau and farewell to the man who gave British Cycling hope and helped generate a multi-billion pound industry?
It was noticeable that Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme praised Mark Cavendish lavishly for honouring the race when he finished over an hour behind Geraint Thomas on Stage 11, thus missing the cut and being eliminated. Cavendish could have climbed off and headed for his hotel and then a flight home to his growing young family but decided to tough it out and ‘lose’ on the road.
Prudhomme immediately negotiated with the local authorities to keep those roads open for longer than had been planned to allow Cavendish to come home under his own steam. Team Sky coach Rod Ellingworth, once Cavendish’s personal coach, broke away from team duties to walk down the course to cheer his former charge home.
The cycling cognoscenti might argue that it was Sky’s Tour de France’s wins – whether you consider them controversial or not – that launched British road cycling into true world class, but I remember it differently
When British road cycling was anonymous and close to a laughing stock back in 2007 it was Cavendish who gave the sport hope. He didn’t deliver that year at the Tour but the following year he landed four stages and in 2009 he upped that total to six. Remarkably, even with those six wins he wasn’t able to claim the green jersey. That was also the year he claimed the most audacious of wins at San Remo. Then in 2010 it was five Tour stages, followed by another five in 2011 when he did also land the green jersey.
Tour de France stage wins was the language that the general British sports fan understood. The GC was a complicated tactical business – the winner rarely actually won a stage – and in any case seemed a distant dream and not entirely desirable given the building controversy over Lance Armstrong and his methods. But chubby – Cav’s own word – sprinters who struggled to get over the high mountains, but who rode like the wind on the flat to take line honours was self-explanatory
It was Cavendish who absolutely guaranteed column inches and TV time back in Britain. It was Cavendish who paved the way for the true explosion in British cycling and indeed helped massively in the internationalisation that Prudhomme and the Tour also craved.
That is why Cavendish is revered and why the cycling world now awaits his next move so keenly. At 33 can he rediscover his mojo and return next year to continue his pursuit of Eddy Merckx’s 34 stage wins? Cavendish is currently marooned on 30.
Or is that really it? Has the hurricane that was Mark Cavendish finally blown itself out? If so I have one wish. He could be a media pundit in his sleep – he would be brilliant – but what a directeur sportif he might prove to be.