Interview: Mark Cavendish on David Millar, the Tour, the Olympics and becoming a father

World champion also looks back on early months of season with Team Sky

by Simon_MacMichael   April 21, 2012  

Mark Cavendish MSR 2012 (© Simon MacMichael)

Mark Cavendish has said he would “love” to have David Millar alongside him on the start line for the Olympic road race this July, and is targeting both Olympic gold and a successful defence of the green jersey in the Tour de France. The world champion, speaking at the West London launch of Team Sky’s new Jaguar XF Sportbrake cars, also reflected on what it means to him to be a father following the birth of his daughter earlier this month.

With the British Olympic Association having reportedly conceded that it expects the Court of Arbitration for Sport to rule that its lifetime Olympic ban for athletes banned for six months or more is unenforceable, Millar is set to become eligible for selection for London 2012, although it’s far from certain whether he will make himself available.

Cavendish, however, is unequivocal in wanting the man who was arguably the key member of the Great Britain team that helped him win the rainbow jersey last year in Denmark to perform a similar role in the event that will see the first gold medal awarded of this summer’s Olympics.

“I’d love David Millar to be on the start line with me,” he maintains. “He captained our team to the world championship last year in Copenhagen and I’d love him to be there in the Olympic Games. 

“He’s a loyal team mate and very good physically, and he’ll make a massive difference to our team,” he continues, before going on to outline some of the specific qualities that Millar could bring to the team.

“There’s no radios allowed in the Olympic Games, it’s harder when you’re in a bike race than watching it on TV,” he explains. “You have to be able to read a race and know what’s going on, that’s where experience comes in.”

With that Olympic road race exactly 14 weeks away now and the ruling on the lifetime ban due any day now, it’s natural that Millar’s potential presence in the team is a topic of discussion. But Team Sky’s star sprinter is quick to remind his audience that we are here to interview Mark Cavendish.

Last August, fresh from winning the green jersey in the Tour de France, Cavendish triumphed on the Mall in the Olympic test event, the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, which included two circuits of the Box Hill loop, which will be tackled nine times in the Olympics.

Since that race last year, he’s continued to go out on the roads where it is hoped he can clinch Great Britain’s first medal of the Games.

“I’ve recced the course,” he reveals. “I’ve done specific training, but nothing too much out of the ordinary. It’s not about the technical side of looking at it, it’s a pretty straightforward course to technically ride, it’s just about the physical thing; you’ve got to ride it as much as you can.”

The Olympic road race takes place just six days after the Tour de France finishes in Paris. When Team Sky signed Cavendish late last year, many wondered how it would reconcile Cavendish’s defence of the green jersey with Bradley Wiggins’ hopes of becoming the first British rider to win the maillot jaune; the last team to win both in the same season was Team Telekom through Erik Zabel and Jan Ullrich, respectively, in 1997.

Recently, Dave Brailsford, Team Principal at Team Sky and Performance Director at British Cycling, and therefore the man who has the final say on how Wiggins and Cavendish will prioritise their seasons, suggested that it would make sense for the former would focus on the maillot jaune at the Tour, while the world champion would concentrate on the Olympic road race.

Cavendish, however, doesn’t see why he shouldn’t chase glory in the Tour and at London 2012. “I still want to win them both,” he insists. “I’ll finish the Tour de France. Unless I get eliminated, I’m not pulling out of the Tour de France. But I want to do well in both.

“It’s hard,” he admits. “You’ve got to take the six days and every single hour has got to count to recover. But it’s not like I’m coming from a different sport into the Olympics. Probably all the favourites for the Olympics will be riding the Tour de France anyway, so it’s not like I’m in a different boat to anyone.

“I need a good team at the Tour de France and a good team at the Olympic Games,” he continues. “It’s not me winning the green jersey, it’s not me winning the Olympic Games. It’s Team Sky winning at the Tour de France and it’s Great Britain winning at the Olympics. So we need the best way to do that.”

It’s put to Cavendish that a big reason behind Cadel Evans’ success in the Tour de France last year was because his BMC Racing team didn’t have the distraction of also targeting the sprint stages, and his team mates were therefore able to give the Australian their full support. Cavendish disagrees.

“Believe me, I was there last year and I saw BMC in a bunch sprint every day, every kilometre of every day,” he comments. “They were working for Cadel, but they were there alongside our train every day. BMC did as much work on the front as HTC last year in the final kilometres, although they didn’t have two guys riding all day like we did.”

He believes that in this year’s Tour, Team Sky won’t be left alone to shoulder the workload to ensure that breaks are chased down. “There’s more teams now that are probably going to ride, it’s not going to be like last year where it’s like we’ll leave it to HTC because they ride.

“There’s some guys who have got confidence now, there’s some guys who have won races. Kittel’s going well, and Argos-Shimano are going with the sole goal of bunch sprints, and obviously Lotto have got confidence in Greipel, there’s going to be more teams to control the race now during the day. Apart from that, we’re in exactly the same boat as everyone else.”

So will he continue the phenomenal strike rate that has seen him win a average of five stages in the last four editions of the race, one of which, in 2008, he left early to prepare for an unsuccessful assault on the Madison at Beijing with Wiggins?

Cavendish concedes that he may sometimes get a sprint wrong, “but I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

He goes on: “When Greipel beat me last year, you could put every penny you have that I’d win the day after. I take it as a compliment that I can win nine out of ten, but if I lose one, then I’m losing it, and the guy who’s won the one out of ten is making it. But they’ve lost nine out of ten.’

Asked how he feels the early months of his career with Team Sky have gone, Cavendish says: “It’s been good. You can read in some magazines that I’m on the way down, because I didn’t win Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem – but neither did most other people.

“I won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, I won four other races, Just because you didn’t win two of the biggest bike races in the world, it doesn’t mean you’re going down, if you’re targeting the two biggest bike races in the world, you haven’t failed if you haven’t won them.

“So I’m happy, I’m comfortable in Team Sky, and I’m looking forward to the year. I think I’m the most successful world champion since Tom Boonen was in 2005 at the beginning of the year. That’s okay,” he insists.

Wearing the rainbow jersey, plus his high rate of converting his presence in any final sprint into a victory means that Cavendish is now a marked man, something he acknowledges.

“This is the first year that I’ve consistently felt that it’s not about someone winning, it’s about me not being there, it’s just how it is. A bit of bad luck can cause something to happen, as in Gent-Wevelgem.

“Milan-Sanremo, I’ll never ever be able to explain what happened that day. You get one little bit of bad luck and it will be taken advantage of but it doesn’t matter, it means that if teams are doing that, it means I’m doing something right somewhere else, I’m winning stuff, which is what my job is.”

Days after winning Milan-Sanremo in 2009, Cavendish said that he wanted to come back and repeat the feat while wearing the rainbow jersey. He went into last month’s race as a solid favourite to do just that, but with around 100 kilometres left to ride his race was all but over as he was dropped on the climb of Le Manie.

“I’ll never be able to explain it,” he reflects. “I was in the best form of my life. I wasn’t on it that day. It’s easy for an uneducated person to go, ‘Oh look, Cav can’t climb,’ but I’m not the first guy dropped in bike races, there’s loads of guys dropped before me. It’s just the TV cameras are always on me.

“Compared to other big names I can’t climb, not compared to other bike riders. But I was the last rider over Le Manie, there was a problem there, something inexplicable. Not just the last of the favourites, but the last of the riders.

“I can’t explain it, I don’t know why. It happened. Apparently everyone’s told me, that happens, it shows we’re not machines, these things can happen.”

So did that ‘jour sans,’ as the French put it – ‘a day without’ – play on his mind? “It did for three days, then I rode in Waregem [the Dwars Door Vlaanderen], and I was a bit nervous there. I said to the guys, ‘Don’t race for me today, because I don’t know how my form is.’

“I was fine apart from the crash, which was when we were going easy at the end of the race, but I was angry because I think I could have raced there. So for 
three days it preyed on my mind, then you get on with it.”

Next week, Cavendish heads to Switzerland and the Tour de Romandie, although he says he is there just to build up fitness ahead of the Giro d’Italia, with the main emphasis for the team, which includes both Bradley Wiggins and Chris Frome, being the GC.

The Giro itself appears to offer plenty of opportunities in the first half of the race for the Manxman to add to his haul of seven stage victories in the first of the year’s three Grand Tours.

“We’re going with a team that has a lot of fast guys, a lot of guys that can go well in a sprint. There’s more than the two sprint days there were last year, there’s six, so we’d like to win those.

“We’ve got a couple of good climbers there, but we’re not going with any GC ambitions, any real jersey ambitions, but we’d like to win as many of the 21 stages as possible.

“We’ve got a good chance in the team time trial, we’ve got a strong team there.” The second half of the Giro this year is focused on the mountains, but Cavendish says he hasn’t yet made a decision about whether he might leave the race early, saying, “I haven’t set a number of days yet, we’ll take each day as it comes.”

Cavendish is asked what he thinks of the performance of the man who is unarguably the star performer of the opening months of the 2012 season, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tom Boonen. His reply reflects the respect of one professional at the top of his game for another.

“He’s incredible. There’s no other word to describe him this year except. How strong he is strong, how he’s pedalling, how he looks, it’s more than impressive, it’s awe-inspiring.”

Before he began winning Grand Tour stages, Cavendish was already a world champion on the track, winning the Madison with Rob Hayles at Los Angeles in 2005, and he would add a second title with Wiggins in 2008.

Reminded of Great Britain’s successful world championships in Melbourne this month, an event in which three of his Team Sky colleages raced – Ben Swift, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh, all of whom will join him at the Giro d’Italia – Cavendish says: “I was delighted with what I saw, especially the endurance guys, they were incredible.

“Ben Swift was unlucky in the points race but in the scratch race he made it look like he was the only bike rider there, that was impressive stuff. The endurance guys, they were really good, it’s just a shame there’s only two events and one of those isn’t a real event at the Olympics this year.”

Cavendish is clearly thrilled with being a father after partner Peta Todd gave birth to their daughter Delilah Grace earlier this month.

“It’s incredible. You didn’t realise you could have so much love for something, she’s so beautiful, she’s so good, the more she’s getting her features, I see me in her more.”

Some of the infant’s attributes, however, are definitely from the maternal side. “She hasn’t got my little short legs, she’s got her mum’s long legs,” he laughs, adding: “She does frown like me, but that’s alright – keep the boys at bay when she’s older!”

He maintains that fatherhood, rather than taking the edge off his racing, will give him even more incentive to win races.

“I haven’t raced yet, obviously, but it’s made me more determined,” he explains. “It could be so easy to stay and look at her and cuddle her, but I want to give her the best life possible. It’s not just about me and what I achieve now, it’s about providing the best life possible for my girl.

“It doesn’t take your motivation or focus, but it does change the reason behind the motivation or focus. It’s no longer your own trophy cabinet, it’s about a lot more. So it doesn’t change any motivation but it might change the reasoning behind it a little bit.”

While the new arrival in the family may have changed Cavendish’s life in some ways, he’s still getting the same rest as before. “She wakes up maybe once a night and even then doesn’t stir me. I room with Bernie Eisel, and if I can sleep through his snoring, I can sleep through anything,” he jokes.

13 user comments

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as much as i like cav, david millar should and been banned for life from sport he cheated and got caughtlike lots of other sports people who should have been banned for life as well.
my question is if they had not been caught would they have changed their ways, probably not.

posted by issacforce [205 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 9:53

6 Likes

issacforce wrote:
my question is if they had not been caught would they have changed their ways, probably not.

According to Millar's autobiography, he'd already stopped doping some months before the police searched his apartment and found the syringes.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8210 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 10:01

6 Likes

they could all say that, itys if we believe them!!

posted by issacforce [205 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 10:11

6 Likes

issacforce wrote:
as much as i like cav, david millar should and been banned for life from sport he cheated and got caughtlike lots of other sports people who should have been banned for life as well.

According to issacforce's theory if you've committed a crime and served the appropriate time, for the offence, then you shouldn't be allowed to work or have any other involvement in society.

David Millar has served his sentence and paid his dues. He deserves a second chance.

David Palmer
Milton Keynes

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djpalmer32's picture

posted by djpalmer32 [56 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 14:05

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David Millar did not fail a drug test as I understand? He admitted his guilt did he not? Not sure what the police found but syringes are not conclusive evidence unless they have illegal substances in them, surely? He could have just said,'prove it'. Give him some credit for not trying to insult our inteligence. I think of the riders as victims of drug abuse. There is definately pressure both because of a belief that others are doing it and a desire to do what is neccessary to win. Many riders will suffer the consequences of their actions in later life it is not just 'The Sport' that suffers. Money and glory in later life are no use if your body is f****d.

posted by SideBurn [823 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 14:49

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But more to the point I can't help thinking that Team Sky are in cloud cuckoo land if they think they can win the Yellow and Green jersey this year and then allow Mark and other team GB's to target the Olympics as well???? Surely a recipe for disaster? I thought that the delay in announcing the 'worst kept secret in cycling' which was Cavendish going to Sky in the first place had a lot to do with the teams priorities this year. Surely either the Green or the Yellow or the Olympics not all three?

posted by SideBurn [823 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 17:33

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SideBurn wrote:
But more to the point I can't help thinking that Team Sky are in cloud cuckoo land if they think they can win the Yellow and Green jersey this year and then allow Mark and other team GB's to target the Olympics as well????

It could be that what Team Sky would like to happen, and what the two riders themselves at the centre of it plan to happen, are different things.

Brailsford's comments the other week seemed to have resolved the issue - Cav to focus on the Olympics, Wiggo on the Tour - but Cav was pretty unequivocal on Friday that he reckoned he could do both.

Saw a tweet yesterday suggesting that Rob Hayles actually reckoned Cav wouldn't ride the Tour at all (although nothing the rider himself said on Friday gave even the slightest hint of that).

We'll find out soon enough I suppose.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8210 posts]
23rd April 2012 - 17:50

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Read David Millar's book before you castigate him. As said above he did not test positive! But fell on his own sword through what reads as a sense of self loathing for having done it. If you are unrepentant and only stop when you are found out then you should be banned. Definitely; but if you confess up straight away take your punishment and do your time then the slate should be wiped clean. That is what happens with all other crimes. Why should cyclists be any different. Perhaps if caught a second time a lifetime ban would be more appropriate? There did appear to be a lot of pressure on young impressionable riders and once started it will always be easier to continue. Takes courage to buck the trend.

Felix

Felix's picture

posted by Felix [111 posts]
25th April 2012 - 22:56

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You're right about serving one's time and paying one's dues and all that.

And I have read David's book and enjoyed it - he comes across as honest and I personally believe his version of events in the autobiography....BUT, it doesn't change how I feel about the doping issue.

It's rife, it's everywhere, and it's killing the sport. The only possible way to eradicate it is to ensure the risks far outweigh the rewards. The riders caught doping should never race again - banned for life (throughout ALL events, not just the Olympics). The teams they ride for should suffer enormous, crippling fines and a loss of points.

If everyone in the chain had such a disincentive to dope, it would all but disappear. Sacrificing the Millars and other similar athletes - however likeable they are - in the cause of saving teh spotr as a whole is a no-brainer.

posted by Lacticlegs [124 posts]
26th April 2012 - 12:55

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I see your point, but there is a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Another properly big drugs scandal (like Festina or Puerto) in the late nineties might have more or less killed off the entire thing - in top flight terms anyway).

Cycling is making good progress, but the problem with tests/bans etc is that the science is always on the move; many 'in-the-know' opinions of Contador's situation is that he probably didn't deliberately take clenbutarol, since there was such a small amount as to be pointless anyway - would you ban him for life? What if the whole thing is a mistake?

In sporting terms you're suggesting capital punishment, but such a measure ALWAYS requires the authorities to be absolutely certain of guilt, which just isn't possible.

I think a better use of resources would be cleaning up other sports - men's pro tennis is rumoured to be the biggest doping joke in sport right now.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3291 posts]
26th April 2012 - 13:08

6 Likes

The Millar things' in the past.

He's paid dearly and will continue to do so.

I feel sorry for the guy personally - not only did the press screw / the french tax office screwed him twice...

As for MC - that lights shining very, very, very bright, I wonder what he'd do if a fair few things would not go soo well for him....as his career is something many would wish for.

posted by yenrod [100 posts]
26th April 2012 - 17:59

7 Likes

Cav's respect for Millar, Boonen & Johan Museeuw (ok Museeuw was in another interview) is interesting to me.

I've always noticed that many riders with an anti doping stance, will still have the upmost respect for somone coming back from a ban! or likewise an ex rider that admitted doping in his past... & I'm not talkin about a David Millar 'I'm ashamed of what I did' type approach I mean anyone... even the Vino approach gains respect from your fellow so called anti doping riders.
Does this surprise you?? Surprise
Or does it bore you?? Yawn

are your eyes open or closed???

Paulo's picture

posted by Paulo [110 posts]
27th April 2012 - 20:15

8 Likes

I feel sorry for the guy personally - not only did the press screw / the french tax office screwed him twice

Oh come on. He was caught trying to pay less tax than he should have to the country he was living in. If he'd paid all of it up front like most of us do, they'd not have had recourse to a single extra penny.

I have no issue with Millar the reformed character but he chose to take drugs and he has to live with the consequences (as he himself has said).

posted by atlaz [154 posts]
29th April 2012 - 7:26

7 Likes