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Mark Cavendish: I've battled quite hard with depression

Mark Cavendish on the opening stage of the 2020 Saudi Tour – his first race in his new Bahrain McLaren colours
Mark Cavendish on the opening stage of the 2020 Saudi Tour – his first race in his new Bahrain McLaren colours (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

British sprinter Mark Cavendish has revealed that he's been fighting against depression, which was diagnosed midway through 2018 while he was battling the Epstein-Barr virus, but that he's now coming out of the other side of both illnesses, and looking forward to showing what he can do with new team Bahrain McLaren.

"It's not just been my physical health which has been dealt a blow over the last couple of years," Cavendish told The Times on Sunday, while talking about the virus that has seen him struggle to race at anything close to the level that has seen the now 34-year-old take 146 career wins, including 30 stages of the Tour de France, the road race World Championships title in 2011 and victory at the 2009 Milan-San Remo.

"I've battled quite hard with depression during this time. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in August 2018," he said.

"I didn't take any medication. Like, this isn't the time or place – we'll do a thing on it at some point – but I received help. I was dark. And I'm on the other side, thank you. Well, as much as I can be. I think I've come out of that. And it's nice to have come out of that. And to look for the positives," said Cavendish.

Finally given the all-clear from Epstein-Barr in April 2019, the 2020 season should have been the start of a new chapter for Cavendish, whose last professional win came with former team Dimension Data on a stage of the Dubai Tour in February 2018.

Although Cavendish has managed to get 10 days of racing under his belt this season – riding the Saudi Tour and the UAE Tour in February – he had yet to hit his stride, and has instead found himself spending more time at home with his family as a result of the coronavirus crisis – a happy situation that could serve to be to Cavendish's advantage, and ensure that he's even more ready to come back with all guns blazing when racing does finally resume.

"It could have been easy for me to go through my whole career and only see the kids once they're teenagers," Cavendish told The Times. "So to be able to absorb this… to be able to do what mums and dads do, it keeps me happy, it keeps me super motivated, and it keeps me sane, I guess."

'The unknown of when you're going to be back racing – I had that for two years'

As for the uncertainty about when he and his colleagues will be able to pin on a number again, Cavendish pointed out that he's become accustomed to that feeling of not really knowing.

"The unknown of when you're going to be back racing, I had that for two years," he said.

The move to Bahrain McLaren this season has also seen Cavendish reunited with new team manager Rod Ellingworth, who Cavendish is very close to thanks to their coach-athlete relationship at British Cycling, where Cavendish began his path towards the highest echelons of the sport.

That combination of Ellingworth-plus-McLaren is a dream scenario for a motorsport fan like Cavendish.

"When you're a kid, the thought you'd be racing for McLaren, it blows my mind," he said. "I still have to rein in my fan-boy attitude sometimes but I just love what it's all about, the attention to detail and obviously the people understand that philosophy. That's why Rod is such a good fit.

"Rod has an incredible ability to lead people and understand what makes them tick. If he had said before as my boss, 'You need to jump,' I would say, 'How high?' And it's nice to know that he's not just getting you to jump for his ego, for the sake of doing it. There's a genuine reason to help you. I've been places where they say, 'Jump,' just because they can."

Ellingworth would appear to be the guiding light that Cavendish needs once more in what are now the latter stages of a long and highly successful professional career.

"I put a line in the sand," Ellingworth told the The Times of Cavendish's past battle with Epstein-Barr. "I told him I don't want to hear him talking about it. Let's look at where we are going. Let's have a damn good crack at it."