My feelings for Cavendish vary between love and hate, without being too dramatic about it. He does incredible things on the bike, he pulls off incredible stunts, he’s got fantastic acceleration and gets himself into a great aerodynamic position in sprints. He’s like a bulldog – totally power-packed.
I know that plenty of people have said that he wins a lot because he’s always had a strong lead-out train to set him up, but he’s very often shown that he can win when he doesn’t get such a good lead-out. He can weave his way through the wheels, get into gaps and once he comes off the wheels he’s unmatchable. OK, if he didn’t have a lead-out train he might not win so often, but nevertheless that shouldn’t take away from his ability as a sprinter and his achievements.
As for the man himself, I find him less engaging. When he’s being interviewed he never looks into the camera, he’s always looking away. When he thanks everyone, it always the same story all over again. Sometimes I listen to him and think I’d like to hear something new. But it’s always the same story with him thanking his team-mates and after a while it can sound a little false, even though I am sure that he is totally genuine in what he feels and what he is saying.
So, sometimes his attitude bugs me a little bit, but at the same time he is as he is. All bike champions who reach that level are a little bit special. They have an edge, a steely nature and can be impulsive and say things that can get people’s backs up. I’m sure that if Cavendish was asked to comment on my reactions following key moments in my career he wouldn’t be saying totally positive things either. It is true that it is very easy for me sitting here in my armchair watching from afar to pick holes in his personality, but I would stress that when you look around he is phenomenal – there’s certainly no one else around like him at the moment.
Thinking back to my era, there were guys like Sean Kelly, who was a very spectacular sprinter, and Jean-Paul Van Poppel, who was very quick, and also [Djamolidin] Abdoujaparov, who we called “The Bulldozer”. Once he got to the front he would put his bike down to the left, to the right, at 45° each time. He was incredible on the bike. There was nobody around him because everyone was a little bit afraid of him. But he had huge power. So there always have been great sprinters in every era, but Cavendish is certainly special when compared to most.