Regular followers of VeloVoices will know that I’m quite a big fan of Mark Cavendish – the term ‘man-crush’ is often bandied about by my fellow Voices – and so it falls to me to pen a few words about him on his 28th birthday today.
Where do I start? His 101 wins in 6½ years since turning pro? How about his 40 victories at the three grand tours – sixth all-time, the most among active riders and the second-youngest rider to reach this milestone after Eddy Merckx? Or the rainbow jersey he won in the road race at the 2011 World Championships, only the second British rider ever to do so?
There’s no question he’s the finest sprinter of his generation, and a reasonable case can be made to argue that he’s the best fast-twitch man ever. But more than his undoubted speed, this is a man with an unquenchable desire to win. He is the best at what he does by miles – or, at least, a couple of bike lengths – and stands comparison with sporting legends past and present such as Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Don Bradman and Pele. He wins when he should win, but he also wins in situations which any other rider would give up as a lost cause. He’s as devastating behind a sprint train as Mario Cipollini ever was, and as tough and instinctive as Robbie McEwen when left to fend for himself.
But don’t just take my word for it – trust the evidence of your own eyes …
Cav’s magnificent seven
To celebrate Cav’s birthday I’ve selected seven of his best victories, one for each year since he turned pro in 2007. Which is your favourite? Vote in the poll below.
This was the snowflake that started the avalanche of victories: the one-day semi-classic Scheldeprijs. Cavendish unleashed his now-familiar finishing kick to beat Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans (his lead-out man at the current Giro) and the late Wouter Weylandt.
2008: Tour de France, stage 5
Cavendish’s first Tour de France win. French champion Nicolas Vogondy, the last survivor of the day’s break, was heart-breakingly caught inside the last 50 metres. With sprinters of the calibre of Thor Hudhovd, Erik Zabel and Oscar Freire firing off all over the place, Cav held his nerve to take his maiden Tour win. 22 more have followed since, putting him fourth all-time in Tour stage victories and top amongst sprinters.
2009: Milan-San Remo
With the full backing of his Columbia-High Road team, Cavendish survived the Cipressa and the Poggio with enough in reserve to overcome Heinrich Haussler’s long-range sprint and pip him at the line.
2010 Tour de France, stage 20
The second of his record four consecutive victories on the Champs-Élysées, and one earned without a dominant lead-out train. What makes this finish so special is the camera angle. The side-on view shows Thor Hushovd being led out by a Cervelo teammate. The green jersey of Alessandro Petacchi inches closer just as Cavendish flies into and out of the shot with a stunning burst of pace. Manx Missile, indeed! (Start the video at about the 9:30 mark.)
2011 World Championships road race
Cavendish started as favourite on this rare sprinter-friendly Worlds course. Team GB were forced to do most of the work throughout the race. But in a frenetic bunch sprint, Cavendish waited patiently before launching a huge effort from well back in the line to hold off Matt Goss and become only the second British rider (after Tom Simpson) to pull on the rainbow stripes. (Start the video at about the 5:20 mark.)
2012 Tour de France, stage 18
Sometimes it’s not just about speed. Sometimes it’s about strength, determination and the ability to make the right decisions under extreme pressure. With 2km to go, it looked like no one would catch a six-man break which included Nicolas Roche, Luis Leon Sanchez and 2013 Giro stage winner Adam Hansen. But teammate and yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins ensured he entered the final kilometre with half a chance, and Cavendish did the rest, launching a series of bursts as he hopped from one wheel to another to overhaul Roche and Sanchez inside the final 100 metres. (Start the video at about the 35:20 mark.)
2013 Giro d’Italia, stage 1
Another victory manufactured from sheer willpower. Cavendish lost lead-out man Gert Steegmans with a mechanical in the final kilometre and had to bridge a gap into a headwind with those ahead of him already at full lead-out speed. Somehow he still had the legs to launch his sprint from half a dozen lengths back to claim the first maglia rosa of this year’s Giro. (Start the video at about the 1:10 mark.)
So there you have it: Mark’s Magnificent Seven. But which do you think is his best victory ever? Cast your vote in the poll below!