Mark Cavendish has revealed how he has changed his diet and his training regime in his bid to be in the best condition possible for the Olympic road race as he bids to win Great Britain’s first gold medal of London 2012.
The Team Sky rider, who once related how his time at British Cycling’s Olympic Academy had turned him from “a fat banker” – that last word memorably misheard by one noted cycling journalist – into a world-class cyclist has been shedding the kilos after cutting sugar from his diet.
The world champion’s radical change of approach to both his diet and his training are designed to help him cope with the challenges of the Olympic road race course, which includes nine ascents of Box Hill in Surrey.
Last year, on his way to winning the Olympic test event on the same course, the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, Cavendish had to tackle Box Hill twice.
With the front of the race controlled by riders from the British team as well as those from a separate team representing England, it proved impossible for any of Cavendish’s rivals to attack on those two climbs; in the Olympics, when he will have just four team mates to help him, it’s likely to be a very different scenario.
“The Olympics course is fairly decent for me,” the 27-year-old told The Sun, “but it would be an exaggeration to say it suits me.
“I’m changing my entire body shape to give myself the greatest chance of winning, it’s taking a lot of work.
“I am already four kilos below my normal racing weight. “My training and diet have become so specific, I have cut out sugar altogether.
“No sweets, no fizzy drinks, no processed foods.
“But it’s a hard adjustment to make, it puts me in a bad mood, I’m tired. I have always shunned the very clinical style of training, the sports scientists and nutritionists dictating my every move.”
Cavendish, who in his autobiography Boy Racer minced no words about his thoughts over the number-crunching performance analysis approach to racing and training, added: “I’ve come to realise it was the approach they took in the past which I didn’t like, I always felt like they thought they knew better than me.
“But the guys I’m working with now are amazing, we get on and I’m following every word of their advice.”
For someone who in press conferences before big stage races always appears relaxed and brimming with self-assurance, Cavendish – the only member of the GB track squad to return from Beijing without a medal – uncharacteristically admitted to feeling “a bit nervous” ahead of the Olympics, which also of course represent a once in a lifetime chance to win gold on home roads.
In part, that nervousness is also due to his awareness that many expect him to win, and certainly a home victory would get Great Britain’s Games off to a flying start in the same way that Nicole Cooke’s victory four years ago in Beijing ignited a feelgood factor throughout the entire Team GB camp.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling pressure,” confessed the world champion, “and I’d be some sort of robot.
“It’s different to normal races. That’s my day job, if I underperform on a tour I’m letting myself down and my team, which is bad enough.
“But if I mess it up in July I’m letting the nation down.
“A road cycling event isn’t a simple case of the fastest man wins, like the 100 metres final or the marathon,” he went on.
“It’s a 260km race with a sprint at the end, the scramble for the finish line will be intense, with all the riders already exhausted but desperate to be first over the line.
“It all comes down to that moment.”
With most of those watching from the roadside or turning on the TV to follow his progress on that Saturday at the end of July likely to be experiencing a top-level road race for the first time, Cavendish drew on an analogy from another sport to explain the challenge he faces.
“It’s the equivalent of putting all the teams of the Premier League on the pitch at the same time, then telling them the first team to score in the 90th minute wins the whole match,” he said.
Cavendish says that girlfriend Peta Todd, who in April gave birth to their daughter Delilah – the pair made trips to last month’s Giro d’Italia, where he won three stages – has been a huge support as his training intensifies ahead of this summer’s challenges.
“It takes a special person to put up with me at the moment,” he revealed. “With the Olympics and the Tour de France looming, plus my intense training, I can be really grumpy.
“Like the other day, I finished training and all my times were good, great results all day, but I was feeling so glum and couldn’t say why.
“She just knows how to deal with me, how to salve my bad moods. I’m so lucky to have her.”
He remains fully focused however on his goals of retaining the green jersey in the Tour and winning that gold medal in London, and that means not easing up on his training.
“I can’t, I won’t,” he maintained. “If I thought for a single moment I hadn’t done enough to prepare myself for this I’d die inside.
“I’m somewhere very steep in Italy at the moment, training all day long.
“It’s just me, my coach and nutritionist. We’re taking a very scientific approach to it, every turn of my pedal is scrutinised.”
Whether he’s won a race or been beaten or crashed in the run-in to the line, Cavendish’s first words in the media scrum after the race are invariably for his team mates, either to express his thanks to them for their role in his victory, or to apologise for not being able to finish off their hard work.
“I am the one who crosses the line but that’s purely because of my role,” he explained.
“I’m the sprinter, I am able to give it a final kick at the last push.
“But the entire race is a precise piece of teamwork in which everyone has a vital role.
“It is thanks to the superb team around me that I can get in that sweet spot, where I can let go and be the first man over.”
He’s aware, though, that come the Olympics, it won’t just be the four men lining up at the start in The Mall alongside him who will be supporting him in his bid for glory.
“If I win, the medal won’t be for me, it will be for the team, but most of all it will be for Britain,” he added.
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.