Cavendish puts woes behind him as he looks to finish job he started
Eight years ago, Mark Cavendish remembers having to borrow Jason Kenny’s silver medal to get a flight upgrade on the way home. He was the only British track cyclist to leave the Beijing Olympics empty- handed, and vowed never to set foot in a velodrome again. Four years ago, on the first day of London 2012, his team were caught out on the final ascent of Box Hill and trundled in 40 seconds behind the leaders.
It is one of British Cycling’s more arresting ironies that during its most spectacular period of Olympic success, one of its most spectacular successes has suffered nothing but pain. But here he was again, assembling at the start line for the scratch race, and another tilt at the Olympic medal that has eluded him. And as he did so, it was tempting to wonder why.
Back in 2010, at the height of his post-Beijing funk, he had bolshily declared that the Olympics was “not in the top 10 of what you can achieve” in the sport. His achievements on the road have already cemented his legacy as perhaps the greatest cyclist this country has ever produced. He has jerseys of every conceivable hue – green, red, pink, rainbow and most recently yellow. So why the unquenchable interest in gold, silver and bronze? The build-up to this event has been far from happy. Cavendish has already thrown a mild strop at being forced to leave the Tour de France early to try out for a pursuit team that had no need for him. He was widely regarded as an outside chance for this year’s omnium, having finished a modest sixth at the world championships in March.
And so you could even argue that his presence in Rio was something of an indulgence, a rare intrusion of emotion into the erg banks and blinking data points that customarily constitute British Cycling’s unforgiving selection process. But sometimes in sport, a little emotion is no bad thing. There were smiles as he peeled off the track having ridden the pursuit of his life: a 4.16 effort of which even seasoned Cavendish watchers were not entirely sure he was capable. There were scowls and a slap on the forehead as he was
eliminated from the final race of the evening for riding up the inside of the home straight when well placed. Sitting in bronze medal position overnight, one thing was clear: Cavendish is in with a shot of winning this, and will sweat blood in order to do so.
“If he can’t do something, he just says ‘I’m not doing it’,” Cavendish once told me in an interview. “I was the exact opposite. If I couldn’t do anything, I had to do it.”
And perhaps there is something in this essentially stubborn nature that has brought him back to the track.
It was the same in London and Beijing. Once he starts a task, he cannot bear to tear himself away without completing it. Cavendish needs an Olympic medal more than we need him to win it.
This is why he has thrown himself into the roulette wheel of the velodrome, in perhaps track cycling’s most unpredictable event: two days, six races, across a variety of disciplines.
Barely 40 miles of high-intensity cycling will decide his fate, having just pedalled more than 1,800 miles around France.
Last night he looked like a man determined, above all, to finish what he started.
And on this evidence, the medal that he has craved his entire career has never looked closer to being in his grasp.
Focused: Mark Cavendish is eyeing that elusive medal