Given the electrifying sprint finishes of British rider Mark Cavendish, it is little wonder he is nicknamed “Cannonball Cavendish” and the “Manx Express.”
After a barnstorming start to his career — at only 24 he is already halfway to equaling Barry Hoban’s British record of eight Tour de France stage wins — Cavendish is once again primed to light up this year’s race, which starts today.
Last year, Cavendish bagged four wins from 14 stages before being hauled out of the race to focus on the Beijing Olympics.
This year, Cavendish hopes his rivals will have to put up with him for the race, as he said last month his goal was to make it to the finish on the Champs Elysees.
With two world championship wins on the track in the Madison (2005 and last year), plus this year equaling Chris Boardman’s British record of 41 major career wins, it is easy to see why the Manxman has been touted as the world’s fastest road cyclist. Despite his dazzling form however, Cavendish stays true to his Manx roots.
“I’m not in it to be in Rolling Stone magazine or to be wealthy,” he told reporters last month at an event organized by his team Columbia High Road and the charity Right to Play. “They might come as a result. But I want to be remembered for what I’ve achieved as a cyclist.”
Cavendish has not forgotten his home either, and said living there was great as it was the best place to train.
“You can guarantee you go down to the meeting point every single day of the week and there’ll be five or six amateurs minimum,” he said. “They’ll give everything.”
Out one day in 2005 on such a ride with seven teenagers, Cavendish witnessed the death of up-and-coming 13-year-old cyclist James Berry, killed when a wheel fell off a passing truck and hit him.
“It’s so hard when I see his dad, knowing that James would be 17 now and he’d be starting just where I started. It’s tragic,” he said. “The other guys saw this at such a young age. I’m in touch with them all the time but we don’t tend to talk about it. Hopefully what I do inspires them.”
One of the names at the forefront of a British cycling renaissance, Cavendish is undoubtedly encouraging younger riders.
Team Columbia sporting director Brian Holm, who competed in the Tour de France in the 1990s, said Cavendish was a rare talent.
“The way Mark’s riding now, the [team] bus driver could take my job and he would still win,” the Dane told reporter, adding that the Manxman’s effect on his teammates had been impressive. “They can now cycle like madmen. When they know he can win everyone goes deeper.”