Cyclingnews caught up with Mark Cavendish yesterday at the Team Sky preseason training camp in Mallorca, and the current world champion and holder of the Tour de France green jersey spoke frankly about his career to date, his hopes for 2012 and how his new team has exceeded all his expectations so far.
Cyclingnews: You're about to enter the new season with a reputation as the best sprinter in the world, and in Great Britain you are fast becoming a household name. Looking back to where it all began, as a child starting out on your BMX did you think that you would be in this position by your mid 20s?
Mark Cavendish: If I’m honest, then yes. At that point though I didn’t think that cycling would become so big in the UK. I didn’t start off wanting to be famous or wanting to be a celebrity but I always wanted to be successful. I didn’t just want to settle for being the best in the Isle of Man or the best in the north west of England. And I didn’t want to stick with being the best in Great Britain or the best in Europe either – I wanted all along to be the best in the world. I knew back then that I just had to keep progressing. My detractors were more numerous than my supporters in the early days. But I’ve had great people around me who have helped me a lot since I was young. They’ve encouraged me and also kept me focussed.
CN: And how does it feel to have achieved so much at a relatively young age? Do you feel any pressure because of that? It's often said in sport that it's easier to get to the top than stay at the top.
MC: I think that's true in any job, not just in sport. But I don’t really think about it that much. I’ve been successful since I turned professional and so I don’t know any different. I don’t know anything other than winning bike races so I don’t feel pressure because I’m still young and have achieved a lot, I just feel the pressure to win. If other sprinters win it’s a big thing for everyone else and if I don’t win it’s an issue for everyone else. That’s the real pressure, irrelevant of my age.
CN: How have things been off the road since you won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on the back of an amazing 2011? Are people noticing you more when you try to sneak out for a newspaper or a pint of milk?
MC: Yes, absolutely. It started last year really. When I was out and about in town people started recognising my face rather than just the helmet and glasses, which was a big change. Now, when I’m out on the bike, I get people in their cars pulling over and taking photos. Kids will lean out of the window and wave at me. If I’d predicted it I’d have said that it would be annoying, but since it’s happened it’s really the opposite. It warms me that people are interested in cycling and get excited about seeing a cyclist. It fills me with pride.
CN: You enjoyed a huge amount of success over a number of years with HTC-Highroad and had a good relationship with your colleagues there. What is the main thing that you miss about your time there as you start a new chapter in your career with Team Sky?
MC: There are a lot of guys that have gone and that I won’t be riding with anymore – the likes of Tony Martin for example, which is really difficult for me. But a lot of the guys on Team Sky are the people that I grew up with. Half the peloton seems to be ex-HTC-Highroad, and a lot of this team at Sky are my ex-teammates. I lost them a few years ago and now we’re back together so it’s just the way things have evolved. You’re always going to miss people who you spend a lot of time with and enjoy success with.
CN: Back in November you told Cyclingnews that you thought Team Sky was going to be the best in the world. Now training has started and you're a fully integrated member of the team, are you even more confident in that prediction?
MC: To be honest, back then I underestimated how good it was going to be here. You hear from other people how it is, but until you see it first hand you never really know. It’s incredible. Rod Ellingworth has been my coach for the last seven years anyway so I knew how the technical and coaching side of things would go. But the structure in place is like nothing I’ve seen before. Away from the racing, from what I’ve seen so far it makes me feel like I was on an amateur team in the past compared to how it is here. It’s exceeded my expectations. Everything here, down to the tiny details, is geared towards getting the best out of yourself and it’s so refreshing.
CN: Here in Mallorca you're experiencing your first training camp with Team Sky. How happy are you so far with what you've been showing? And how does it compare to training camps you've been on in the past?
MC: I’ve never been going this well in January before. In the past I’ve trained but haven’t felt the need to step it up this early. Before I was only focussed on the Tour de France but now I am focussed on wearing the rainbow jersey and I want to do it proud this year. So I’m looking at the season as a whole and I’m in great shape. The training rides go quickly and they’re brilliantly structured. It’s not just about getting kilometres in, it’s about specific work that involves the whole team. So that means that a bond develops between you all and it’s not just about a physical effort.
CN: How's it been rooming with Ian Stannard? And how have you filled your downtime here when you're not training? Do you get bored?
MC: Ian's a great lad and the perfect roommate. He’s really tidy and organised. We’re training for six hours a day so there’s no time to get bored. By the time you’ve had a massage, had dinner, a few games of pool and watched a film it’s time for bed. I haven’t left the hotel apart from our training sessions. I’ll admit that I did get bored during our December stint here though. There were more rest days then, and it’s on rest days that you can start climbing the walls.
CN: What's your relationship like with the boss, David Brailsford? Have you seen a scary side to him yet?
MC: No, he’s sound. It’s not like he’s a dictator or anything. The management here at Sky can take a lot of the credit for making me what I am. They gave me the structure when I was a young lad and it’s actually been quite difficult for me being elsewhere since Team Sky started as they’ve all known me since I was a kid. It’s been hard working for another team as their rivals and seeing all these people that I actually care about in another team. So it’s more than just a worker/management relationship as they’re like friends and family to me. It’s nice to finally be here with them. In a way it feels like I’ve come home.
CN: You've spoken recently about your desire to win Milan-San Remo this year in the rainbow jersey. But what are your other big early season targets?
MC: I’d like to win Gent-Wevelgem. I’ve been close before there. Not close enough, but I’ve been in positions from which I should have won. Five years ago when I turned pro I sat down with Rod Ellingworth and made a list of seven things I wanted to achieve in my career. I’ve achieved five of them and there’s two left. I’ll level with you and tell you that one of those is Gent-Wevelgem. I’m not telling you what the other one is though.
CN: One issue that the media and cycling fans are talking about is that of your leadout man at the Tour de France. Mark Renshaw filled that role for you brilliantly in the past with HTC-Highroad. The obvious man at Team Sky would probably be Geraint Thomas, but he's skipping the Tour to focus on the Olympics. Have you discussed this issue with the management? Does it concern you at all?
MC: We’ve talked about it, but things will evolve naturally. There’s a lot of guys here who could physically and technically fill that role. Guys who have all the attributes on paper to do that job. But you need to develop a bond with people too. I’m not concerned by it at all.
CN: You have a baby on the way in April. In the future, when you're bouncing your grandchildren on your knee, what would you prefer to tell them about 2012 - that you won another green jersey at the Tour de France or that you won Olympic gold in London?
MC: Well unless I have a son I’m not having grandchildren! But there is no preference. Both are completely different things. I’m setting out to do them both and I believe that I can win them both. The fact that the Olympics are in London does make it extra special. But only extra special over other Olympic Games in the future – not over the Tour.