Mark Cavendish insists that cycling is winning the war against the drug cheats, and believes that Team Sky can target both the yellow and green jerseys in next year’s Tour de France. That latter view is shared by his new boss at Team Sky, and performance director of British Cycling, Dave Brailsford. Both were speaking on a Sky Sports News special about the World Champion broadcast last night, called ‘King of Sprint.’
“In my eyes, cycling is the cleanest sport around,” asserted Cavendish, who signed for Team Sky after his former team, HTC-Highroad, folded this year.
"The last three years, I've had over 60 dope tests per year. I was the most tested athlete on the planet in 2009/10,” he revealed.
Cavendish acknowledged that while cycling regularly hits the headlines because of riders failing dope tests, “There’s not as many positive tests in other sports,” but quickly added, “Or is there?”
“You can’t say nobody in other sports cheats, you can’t say nobody in other aspects of life cheats,” he continued, saying that people of all ages and all nationalities cheated in many aspects of life, whether that be entertainment, business, politics or sport.
“Anywhere where there’s money to be made, people are going to cheat,” he said.
"Because of what people have done in the past, cycling does not want that again. People say: 'Oh look, there's been a positive test in cycling.'
“Well that's because they're doing things to catch them!
"When they are catching them, they don't care about the image or the franchise of the sport, they care about making a cleaner and a fairer sport so they make an example of these people.
“Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t think so. I race with these guys every day and since I started racing pro in 2005, I've noticed a difference in the sport.
“There’s not people doing superhuman things like Riccardo Ricco did any more. There are bigger groups at the finish and everybody's on their hands and knees. Nobody's bouncing around, fresh as a daisy after a stage.
"It's such a hard sport. It's so frustrating because we work so hard. I ride 50,000km a year. I train and less than half of that is racing so I have to do the rest training to make sure I'm good for those races.
"When I put all that work and someone says: 'Cycling is just dope.' No it isn't. It winds me up, it really, really gets me."
Last night’s programme also included interviews with Rob Hayles, who partnered Cavendish to world championship victory in the Madison at Los Angeles in 2005, as well as Dave Brailsford, performance director of British Cycling and now Cavendish’s principal at Team Sky too.
Hayles said he believes that the perception in some quarters that Cavendish is arrogant, an accusation often levelled at the 26-year-old, was well wide of the mark.
“The belief that he’s got, he shows it, and I think that’s what a lot of people haven’t liked and have misunderstood over the years as arrogance.
“But he’s not arrogant. If you were to ask him, ‘Who is the quickest bike rider on eh road?’ he’ll say, ‘Well, me.’
“He’s answering a direct question with a direct answer. If people can’t handle that, that’s their problem. He’s only telling the truth.
“I don’t think up till now he’s ever said anything and not fulfilled it, or at least he’s not been in a position to fulfil it with one thing and another.
Hayles revealed that he’d be spending more time out training with him from now on following his own recent retirement, jokingly adding that he hoped some of his own laid-back attitude would rub-off on the Manxman – although he added that he didn’t want him to change too much.
“From the world go when I saw him ride, I knew he was going to be good,” he added. “But I didn’t realise he was going to be great, which is what he is.”
Brailsford also believes that Cavendish’s personality and drive will prove an asset to Team Sky.
“He has this ability to this enthusiasm, this confidence, and this drive towards trying to win, and a self-belief about winning. And what that does, it permeates the whole team. So he’s got brilliant leadership skills, he can really take a team and lead it.”
Ever since rumours broke in the summer that Cavendish was heading to Team Sky at the end of the season, some have wondered whether his pursuit of the green points jersey can be reconciled with an assault on the overall classification.
Those concerns have become louder since Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins finished the Vuelta in September in second and third place behind Geox-TMC’s Juan Jose Cobo.
Moreover, some have pointed to reports that Wiggins and Cavendish were briefly on non-speaking terms after the Beijing Olympics as auguring trouble ahead; while Wiggins returned from China with two golds, Cavendish who rode alongside him in the Madison was the only British track cyclist not to come home with a medal.
What’s more, he’d had to cut short the Tour de France to go to the Olympics in the first place, something he’s vowed never to repeat.
“There’s no issue about Mark and Brad getting on, they’ve got on for years,” insisted Brailsford. “I think anything between them has always been blown a little bit out of proportion. I think they’re very respectful of each other, they like each other, and they can admire the other’s achievements.”
Cavendish himself said: “If I didn’t think it was possible to win the yellow and green jersey at the same time, I wouldn’t be at Team Sky next year. And I am at Team Sky next year, so I think it’s very possible, with the riders and infrastructure they’ve got.”
Brailsford added that both were aware that as well as their own ambitions, the riders were aware of their wider responsibility to the team.
“They are big personalities and the interesting thing, the important thing, is that they both want to win,” he explained. “They want achievements in their career, but really the top guys, they want to win. And that’s important. A star team’s always going to be a team of stars and we’ve discussed that. It’s important that we understand that. They’re riders, they’re employed to ride for the team, the team comes first.”
While Cavendish may have missed out on an Olympic medal in 2008, next summer’s road race at London 2012 gives him an opportunity to win what will be the first gold medal awarded at the Games, and Brailsford acknowledges that it is a big target for both the rider and the British team next year.
“The Olympic road race comes around once every four years and once in a lifetime in your own country,” he said. “So I think there’s a certain emphasis, a certain priority, that we’ll place around the Olympic road race, for sure.”
While Cavendish won the Olympic test event, the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, in August, that route of that race differed from the one that will feature next year in one crucial aspect – the peloton only had to negotiate Box Hill twice.
Moreover, as Brailsford points out, while Great Britain’s team at Copenhagen were able to impose themselves on the race and worked hard to ensure that any breaks were brought back ahead of the sprint finish in which Cavendish won the rainbow jersey, the Olympics are a different proposition.
“It’s no like a Tour de France team or a World Championships team where you’ve got nine riders, in the Olympic Games you only have five,” he said.
“If one of them is Mark, another one will be Bradley, who’s going to ride the individual time trial, you’ve only got three other guys.
“Now, to control a race like that with just five guys is going to be very, very difficult, as is going nine times up Box Hill.
“So even getting him to the finish line where he can compete for a sprint is going to be a massive task in itself, not just for Mark, but for the team.
“So this is a long way from being a foregone conclusion and I think people need to realise just how difficult a task this is for Mark and the team.”
Cavendish himself has his sights set on triumphing on The Mall next July.
“It’s an Olympic gold, it means a lot to any British sportsman.
“In the history of cycling, the Olympics were never a big thing, so it won’t make me any bigger in the history books of cycling, which are important to me to be in.
“But from a personal level, it would be a massive thing – the Olympics, in London, our road race, to do it with a team that should be the strongest there… I think it will be a proud moment if we win.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.