Mark Cavendish has capped a hugely successful 2011 season by tonight being named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He becomes just the third cyclist to win the award after Tom Simpson in 1965 and Sir Chris Hoy in 2008. Junior women’s road world champion Lucy Garner missed out on the Young Sports Personality award, won by golfer Lauren Taylor.
In the main award, decided by a public phone vote, golfer Darren Clarke finished second and athlete Mo Farah was third. Cavendish confirmed the favourite tag conferred upon him by the bookies by commanding an astonishing 169,152 votes 49.47% of all the votes cast, second placed Clarke got 42,188 (12.34%). It might be stating the obvious but it's is nevertheless worth stating that Mark Cavendish polled almost the same number of votes as the other nine finalists combined.
Accepting the award, Cavendish initially said he was "speechless" but quickly regained his composure to thank the team mates who had made his successes this season possible, just as he always does after winning a race.
Cavendish had two aims at the start of the year – to win the Tour de France green jersey that had eluded him in the previous two editions of the race, and to win the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen. The 26-year-old Manxman achieved both goals in style.
On his way to taking the points classification in the Tour, Cavendish won five stages took his personal haul in cycling’s biggest race to 20 stage victories, and is now within touching distance of becoming the Tour’s most successful ever sprinter, currently André Darrigade who won 22 stages between 1953 and 1964.
Taking individual time trials into account, Eddy Merckx tops the list with stage 34 wins, and at his current strike rate you wouldn't bet against Cavendish beating that record in a few years' time.
With his first two participations in the race cut short in 2007 and 2008, Cavendish has raced three times on the Champs-Elysées, and won each time; this year, however, he did so in the green jersey, and became only the second British rider after Robert Millar to win a jersey of any description at the Tour.
Copenhagen in September saw the culmination of a three-year project to get Cavendish across the line first to claim the rainbow jersey, his seven Great Britain team mates each playing a vital role in ensuring that no-one was allowed to escape and set up a bunch finish.
With an uphill drag to the line inside the final kilometre and Cavendish forced onto the right hand side of the course as others sought to disrupt his leadout, the result was by no means a foregone conclusion.
Cavendish, however, showed that he isn’t a sprinter who relies wholly on a smooth train to get him results, coming out of the bunch on HTC-Highroad team mate Matt Goss’s wheel and outsprinting the Australian to win by half a wheel.
Other victories during the year included two stages of the Giro d’Italia, two in the Tour of Britain, a record-equalling third win in the Groe Scheldeprijs, and taking the London-Surrey Cycle Classic Olympic test event.
Next year, Cavendish is looking to retain the green jersey at the Tour with his new outfit, Team Sky, and less than a week after that race concludes has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win the Olympic road race on home roads at London 2012.
The year will prove a landmark in his life off the bike, too, with girlfriend Peta Todd, who has a son by a previous relationship, expecting the couple’s first child.
Today’s award is the latest in a succession of honours for Cavendish, who recently picked up his MBE at Buckingham Palace. He won a Jaguar Academy of Sport Award for Most Inspirational Sportsman of the Year, was named Sportsman of the Year by the Sports Journalists’ Association, and the Bidlake Memorial Plaque.
Garner was Great Britain’s other rainbow jersey winner at Copenhagen, the 16-year-old from Leicestershire overcoming a crash earlier in the race to burst through and beat Belgium’s Jessy Druyts in the sprint.
While she missed out on the Young Sports Personality award, being one of the trio shortlisted out of an initial ten is great recognition of her achievements.
Speaking earlier today to road.cc about the two cyclists in the frame for the awards tonight, British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford said both had thoroughly earned their nominations.
“Mark is one of the greatest and most prolific winners the sport has seen,” said Brailsford, who will also have Cavendish under his charge at Team Sky next season.
“I think it is quite fitting for the Sports Personality of the Year that he has got a big personality, he is interesting, and I think he is starting to transcend the sport now.
“The youngsters out there who we are trying to inspire and get involved in cycling look at Mark and emulate his sprinting, arms in the air, they want to be Mark Cavendish.
“So I think what he’s done for himself is phenomenal, and what he’s done for the sport is phenomenal. What worthy champion, I couldn’t be more happy.
“As for Lucy, her performances this year for such a young athlete have been outstanding and then to win the world championship was amazing.
“I’m very pleased to see cycling get recognised again and certainly from her point of view the future looks amazingly bright, following in the steps of Nicole Cooke really, and long may it continue.”
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.