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Cavendish all white after Flandrien award

Brit Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) talks with Lance Armstrong (Astana) during the 2010 Tour de France presentation, l-r.

Brit Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) talks with Lance Armstrong (Astana) during the 2010 Tour de France presentation, l-r. (Image credit: AFP)

Mark Cavendish spoke on Thursday of his pride at receiving the “International Flandrien of the Year” prize, and also set the record straight about his supposed “wardrobe malfunction” at the awards ceremony in Mechelen, Belgium, last Saturday.

The “Flandrien” is considered one of the most prestigious accolades in professional cycling. While Philippe Gilbert’s heroics in October saw him edge out Tom Boonen for the “Flandrien” recognizing the best Belgian rider of the year, Cavendish won an expert panel’s vote ahead of Tour winner Alberto Contador and world champion Cadel Evans. The Columbia-HTC rider’s season brought him 23 individual wins, including three stage victories in the Giro d’Italia, six in the Tour de France, plus his first success in a one-day Classic, Milan-San Remo.

“I’m so, so happy to have won this award,” Cavendish said yesterday from his base in Tuscany, Italy. “For a rider like me, who loves Belgium and the Belgian people, and who grew up watching and dreaming of the Belgian Classics, this is a huge source of satisfaction and pride.”

Less flattering, Cavendish admitted, were some of the comments that greeted his choice of attire for Saturday’s awards ceremony. Not that “choice” is an accurate description of the all white suit-and-tie combo that was handed to him by the event organizers when he arrived in Mechelen.

“I wasn't too thrilled when they told me I had to wear that, but it was part of the show,” the Columbia-HTC sprinter explained. “Before I appeared on stage, they ran a video set-piece based on [cult British motoring show] Top Gear. The Quick-Step rider, Dominique Cornu, and Jürgen Roelandts, from Silence-Lotto, both did speed tests behind a car, then a rider in full white motorbike gear and helmet showed up. It was meant to be The Stig – the mystery racing driver on Top Gear. Of course he beat them. Then they cut to the studio and me arriving in my white suit and crash helmet. The presenter then asked me to take off the helmet and reveal the identity of The Stig, and of the International Flandrien…”

Cavendish said that he can laugh at criticism of his fashion sense – and at his own expense – but he bridles at any suggestion that the trappings of success have changed him as a man or an athlete. While detractors rush to dissect his private life, or smirk at his recent purchase of an Audi R8 sports car, Cavendish insists that his mind is still very much on the job.

“If anyone thinks that I’m going to take my eye off the ball, they’re sorely mistaken,” he said. “There’s a lot going on in my life but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of staying on the rails up until now. I’ve been to two awards ceremonies since the end of the season. I’ve touched alcohol twice since my last race, the Tour of Missouri in September. Next week I’m going to holiday to Miami but I’m taking my bike with me, to start training. After that I’m going to Curaçao, where I’ll be racing the Amstel criterium.

"As for the car, a lot of people told me I should have treated myself and bought it after Milan-San Remo," he continued. "I only caved in and got it after the Tour because, although I didn't win the green jersey, if you discount the disqualification that I still think was unfair on stage 14, I deserved it with my performances on the road."

Since falling ill and ending his season in Missouri, Cavendish’s main preoccupation has been supporting his friend and fellow Manxman Jonny Bellis. The Saxo Bank rider sustained serious injuries in a scooter accident at the end of September and remains in hospital in Florence. Cavendish visits him on an almost daily basis.

“He’s out of the coma now and the doctors say that he’s come as far in six weeks as most patients do in twelve,” Cavendish said. “He’s got tubes in his mouth, so he can’t talk for the moment, but he’s writing messages on a notepad and communicating really well. He’s lost a lot of muscle – his legs look like Michael Rasmussen’s – but he’s doing great.”

If Bellis’s improvement is excellent news then so, for Cavendish and Great Britain, is the confirmation that the Columbia-HTC rider will be allowed to work with long-term British Cycling coach Rod Ellingworth next year. Ellingworth’s coaching role with the nascent Team Sky appeared to place his ongoing collaboration with Cavendish in doubt, but the Milan-San Remo winner says that all parties stand to gain from the pair continuing their partnership.

“Everyone’s in agreement,” he said. “Rod’s looking after the World Championship road race project for British Cycling, so what’s in my best interests is also in their best interests.”

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