Mark Cavendish says that viewing all cyclists as dopers as a result of the Lance Armstrong scandal is tantamount to believing all TV presenters are child abusers because of Jimmy Savile. The former world champion was talking The Times in an interview [£] that also touched upon his frustrations in this year’s Tour de France and Olympic road race, among other issues.
“Just bandwagon stuff isn’t it?” Cavendish said of the coverage of the Armstrong scandal. “Same with everything. If this negativity had come to cycling ten years ago I would accept it, but the negativity is coming to cycling now because of what happened years ago and that’s not right.
“It’s not fair to paint everyone with the same brush,” he maintained. “Look at what happened with Jimmy Savile - you can’t accuse every TV presenter of what he’s been accused of. It doesn’t work like that.
“Since I turned pro, I’ve not seen anything that suggests it’s not clean. I’m riding clean and winning the biggest bike races in the world and I’m not actually that good. So if I’m winning clean then people can’t be cheating. You might get the odd dickhead, but they will get found out now.”
The frustration of Cavendish and others at being asked to explain the actions of riders who are now retired or coming to the end of their careers is an understandable one, but while most would accept that doping isn’t as rampant as it was during the EPO era, the Padova investigation in Italy suggests the problem is far from being eradicated.
For Cavendish himself there is the more pressing issue of getting his career back on track after a frustrating 2012 which brought him 15 wins, including three stages in both the Giro and the Tour de France, but he missed out on Olympic gold and surrendered the green points jersey he’d won in last year’s Tour.
While Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford insisted ahead of that race that the focus would be entirely on Wiggins’ pursuit of the maillot jaune, Cavendish clearly still believes that he could have been given more scope to go for stage wins.
“Look, I did not want a full team built around me,” he explained. “If I’d wanted that I would never have gone there in the first place. And I didn’t want to put the yellow jersey at risk.
“But I could not get my head round it when we got to stages, which would not have jeopardised it, and the sports director said, ‘We don’t want a sprint’. I’m a perfectionist. I was one of the most prolific winners of the year, but I was good enough to win 25 and I won 15. I’m not happy if I don’t achieve exactly what I set out to do.”
The big ambition during 2012 of course was the Olympic road race but despite Cavendish’s Great Britain team mates digging deep for the cause, once a big group including a number of strong riders got away on the final circuit of Box Hill it proved impossible to bring them back.
“Afterwards Brad and Ian [Stannard] just sat there for 20 minutes, just staring at the floor,” Cavendish revealed. “They couldn’t move, couldn’t even take their skin suits off. People forget that they weren’t even going for a medal. There was no disappointment, no regrets, no bitterness. It was one of the proudest moments of my career.”
Cavendish said it was during the Tour de France that he realised he would not be able to realise his own ambitions with a team that had the GC as its principal goal, and his move to Omega Pharma Quick Step for 2013 means that there will be no such conflict when next year’s race starts on Corsica with what should be a sprinter-friendly opening stage.
Since Cavendish first rode the Tour in 2007, the race has begun either with a Prologue or a road stage featuring a tough finale, so it represents a rare opportunity for him to get into the one Grand Tour leader’s jersey to have eluded him so far.
“I’ve worn the leader’s jersey in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España so it would be nice to complete the set,” he reflected.
He dismissed suggestions however that the ascendancy of Wiggins, who added Olympic time trial gold to his Tour de France title, might cause problems in the relationship between the pair who had a brief but public falling out after Beijing in 2008.
There, Cavendish was the only British track rider not to pick up a medal after a disappointing performance in the Madison alongisde Wiggins, who had already claimed gold in the individual and team pursuits.
“Brad’s a friend of mine, almost a brother to me, I’m a professional, I was part of a team that won the yellow jersey,” he maintained. “It was not hard to keep riding, but I’m not happy unless I win as much as is possible.”
That will to win often leads to a spiky post-race manner when things haven’t gone to plan, as the BBC’s David Bond found out when trying to interview Cavendish immediately after the Olympic road race.
“I’m just matter of fact,” said Cavendish. “Most northern people call a spade a spade. That can be taken wrong, but I just ask to be treated like a human being. I have big morals and principles. I really believe in loyalty; I believe in treating everyone as equal; once people stop respecting that you’re a person it gets my back up quickly.
“The thing is I actually arrive at the end fresher than the rest. To me other riders are just objects. I have no sense of who is around me. I don’t look at anybody. It sounds so unromantic, but it’s so clinical, just a precise set of calculations that change constantly.
“What people forget is we don’t just sprint for 300 metres, it’s red line stuff ten kilometres out. A sprinter is someone who can go fast in the red zone, when the body is full of lactic acid. I don’t have adrenalin. Instead of being full of pent-up emotion and aggression, it’s the opposite. Keep my heart rate low. Go through the motions. The heart’s near the max, 160 beats a minute, but you’re trying to bottle it, bottle it. That’s why after the line it all comes pouring out. When you let go it’s going to erupt.”
Cavendish also spoke about the effect of fatherhood on him, with baby Delilah Grace born in April and brought along by mother Peta Todd to see him win a stage of the Giro d’Italia the following month.
“A lot of the dads in the peloton said to me that I’d start to bottle it now and I thought, ‘oh fuck’, but to be fair it’s done the opposite,” he insisted. “The dads said I wouldn’t take as many risks, but I don’t take many risks anyway. It’s calculated and rare that I crash through a technical error.
“But if I’m going to be away from my daughter for 200 days a year then I’m going to make every day count. I’m more aggressive now because it’s got to be worth it. I’m doing this to provide for my family and to make them proud. In the peloton we used to talk about cars and women; now it’s babies and buggies.”
Cavendish’s move to Omega Pharma Quick Step means that he won’t be able to rely on the advice of his longstanding coach at British Cycling and more recently Team Sky, Rod Ellingworth, architect of the Project Rainbow that brought Cavendish his world championship victory in Copenhagen last year.
“He’s been there through every bad time and every good time, our daughters are born a week apart, so it’s sad,” Cavendish admitted, concluding: “You need someone to bring you down to earth.”
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.