Cavendish puts woes be­hind him as he looks to fin­ish job he started

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 - By Jonathan Liew

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

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