In his own typically outspoken style, Boy Racer chronicles Mark Cavendish’s own observations of his rise to the top of the cycling tree. In these extracts from the book, exclusive to Cyclingnews, Cavendish talks being a square peg in a round hole, drug testing, the Olympic Madison and why big-money offers won’t make him change teams.
On having a talent laboratory computers and sports scientists can’t fathom
"My problem is maybe that I just don’t look like a cyclist. Pro bike riders come in a range of well-chiselled sizes but my short, stubby legs and long body are at least unusual and maybe unique in the pro peloton. More to the point, I don’t look like a bike rider in front of what some coaches regard as the one mirror that never lies – the one which is kept in the gym or the physiology lab, with two pedals, a saddle, wheels that move without travelling and a digital display programmed – it seems to me – to communicate to the world exactly how mother nature was on an off day when she made me.
All cyclists hate stationary bikes or ‘rigs’, mainly because they’re synonymous with leg-butchering, lung-perforating fitness tests, but no one hates them more than I do. At the [British Cycling Federation’s] Academy I’d almost literally kick and scream even before I was put through one of these ordeals, to the point where eventually the coaches decided it was too much melodrama to bear and agreed to let me opt out. All the feedback I’ve got from these tests could be condensed into a single message – the same one you often hear directed at opposing fans at football matches: ‘You’re shit and you know you are…’"
On independent testing agency, Agency for Cycling Ethics [ACE]
"The tragedy in our sport now is that suspicion is almost as much of a problem as doping. People became so used to lies and cheats that they’re ready to interpret any gesture, any comment, any decision you make as evidence that you’re cheating. For that reason alone, in 2008 it would have been almost inconceivable for us to break off the agreement with ACE halfway through the season. It was ironic: Bob had called in ACE to give a message to the team that doping wasn’t an option and to tell the press and public that they could have confidence in our results. Ultimately, we found ourselves in a position where it was the ACE testing that the riders didn’t trust, yet admitting that would have left us open to even more speculation and cynicism than if we’d never even employed an independent test agency in the first place."
On his friend and Madison partner Bradley Wiggins’s performance in the Beijing Olympics
As the age-old parental admonishment goes, I wasn’t angry with Bradley, just disappointed. I didn’t feel that three events were too much to ride – I felt that in my event, our event, he’d given up too easily and too early. In the past, and especially at the World Cup events the previous winter, Brad had carried me but at the same time I’d had to dig in as hard as at any point during my career to allow myself to be saved. Now, in Beijing, I felt that I hadn’t been able to carry him because, realising he wasn’t at his best, he hadn’t given me 100 per cent. There was also another, key issue, albeit one that I’d been aware of all along – the fact that Bradley had spent weeks training to do four-kilometre efforts for the team pursuit and now he found himself totally unprepared for the completely different nature of a 50-kilometre Madison.
In our separate ways, Brad and I had both found ourselves in an unfamiliar position that day. I hadn’t known how to deal with being the strongest rider on the track – which is what I felt I was – and Bradley hadn’t known how to cope with not being the strongest rider. It came down to how we’d grown up as cyclists – me the underdog, the physiological mongrel if you like, who’d learned to scrap and scratch because it was the only way for me to survive. Brad, on the other hand, was a thoroughbred who, in my opinion, was so used to relying on his natural talent that he perhaps hadn’t learned how he could still win when that innate ability wasn’t functioning.
On clashing with team-mate Andre Greipel in one of his first races as a pro, the Etoile de Bessèges in 2007
I kicked and kicked again, past 500, past 300, to the sign showing 200, then veered across the road, leaving Greipel a clear corridor to the line. I turned around. No, it couldn’t be, surely not: I’d dropped the bloody peloton. Trouble was, it was now too late to recover my momentum. I tried desperately to clamber on top of the pedals but, having slowed, the gear was far too big. The Italian Angelo Furlan whistled past me within a few metres of the line to leave me in second place, cursing my own bad luck and wondering what the hell had happened to the team’s so-called number-one sprinter.
Where was Greipel? My question was answered a minute or two later. I arrived at the bus, still breathless, took off my helmet and climbed off my bike. I looked around and saw Greipel arriving. He didn’t look pleased. In fact, he looked enraged.
‘Cavendish!’ he screamed, seemingly oblivious to the small crowd of spectators, riders and managers within earshot. ‘You only sprint for yourself! You’re selfish!’
‘What are you talking about?’ I said. ‘I was leading you out!’
‘No, no, you only sprint for yourself. You selfish bastard!’
‘I fucking led you out. Where the fuck were you?’
I dare say we’d still be swapping expletives now if our directeur sportif Allan Peiper hadn’t been there to restore order.
On shunning lucrative offers to leave Columbia-Highroad at the end of 2008
Why didn’t I go elsewhere and double my money? Simple – for the same reasons that I’ll now honour my contract with Bob Stapleton, rather than join Team Sky, the much-trumpeted, eagerly anticipated British-based pro team that will debut in the pro ranks in 2010. When the man behind that project, the British Cycling Performance director Dave Brailsford, unveiled the first, concrete details of his plan in February 2009, the press at home and abroad were quick to assume that I’d be the fulcrum and figurehead of the team. The Sun newspaper even dedicated almost a full page to a picture of me winning Stage 5 of the Tour, alongside an article speculating that I could be bought out of a contract worth ‘about £1.2m’ a year with Columbia. They were wrong on two counts – once, spectacularly, on the value of my current deal, then again on the likelihood of me wriggling out of that deal before its expiry date.
So what are those reasons? Well, one is that, while Sky look set to be one of the richest if not the richest team in the peloton– and logic certainly dictates that they’d be willing to fork out more for Britain’s most high-profile Tour rider than any Spanish, Italian or, for that matter, American-based outfit – the wealth that motivates me is not the kind that appears on my bank statement. If they could guarantee me wins in Tour stages or Classics like Paris–Roubaix and Milan–San Remo, that would be another matter, but that’s the other issue: I solemnly swear that I couldn’t guarantee the results I’ve had this year with different teammates.
"Boy Racer" is available from Amazon.com UK for £18.99.