It is exactly two weeks until Utrecht, the Netherlands’ road and rail hub, briefly becomes the centre of the world, when the finest cyclists in the world meet for the Grand Depart of the 102nd Tour de France.
It will also be a year since the most dominant sprinter in the race’s recent history wiped himself out on the streets of Harrogate, ripping his shoulder ligaments and suffering the worst injury of his long and glorious career.
Mark Cavendish admitted in the accident’s aftermath that it was entirely his fault. That he had gone for “a gap that just wasn’t there.” Such was his determination to win that once-in-a-lifetime thing – a Tour stage finishing in his mum’s home-town – that he pushed himself too hard.
Yet the incident has not dimmed his appetite for risk, nor his utter determination to win. That, he says, is the same as it has ever been since he first got on a bike, even if his motivations now are completely different.
Cavendish is 30, and his wife Peta is expecting their second child. Their first daughter, Delilah, is three. He also has a nine year old stepson. “When Peta was pregnant with Delilah people told me, ‘Oh you won’t take risks. You won’t want to be away from home,’ which I guess it could do,” he says. “But with me it made me the opposite. It made me more driven. I want to provide for her. I want to give her the best life I can. I know I’m going to be away riding my bike, so I’ve got to make every second of that time away count.”
He spends 200 days of the year away from home. Currently he is in Switzerland, riding in the Tour de Suisse, where his nemesis, the Slovak sprinter Peter Sagan, is getting the better of him. Next week it will the British Road Race Championships in Lincolnshire.
“In your twenties, you grow up, you change, you get more responsibilities, even without family,” Cavendish adds. “Kids change everything. Your whole perspective on life. Nothing’s about yourself. It’s about providing, and giving the best life to your family. It’s not that you consciously change. You just do. It’s incredible. What you thought was important before, just isn’t important.
“I used to come home and say I have to relax to recover, be it watch TV or listen to music. Now I’m colouring Barbie books, sticking stickers, peeling stickers off stuff. Before, you’d get home from training and all you’d think about is training. Now, even if I’m mid-race, when my family comes to mind, I just forget cycling. I’m just absorbed in my family. It’s really nice. It makes you forget.”
With regard to what Cavendish still wants to achieve, there is only one major race where he has not tasted victory, the Gent-Wevelgem, a classic road event held in Belgium each year. “It’s a prestigious race, that I should have won by now that I haven’t. I made a list when I turned pro. It’s the only thing.”
There is the Olympics too. Cavendish is arguably Britain’s most talented cyclist, but has not won a medal. There had been talk of his returning to the track in Rio next year, but changes to the rules will make it impossible for him to qualify without all but giving up his road cycling career.
“It’s only been like this for the last two years,” he says. “It’s like putting Wimbledon qualification on while the Australian Open’s on. There’s been no thought about it, about the future of track cycling. No consideration has gone into it in my opinion.”
Come the Tour, he knows that three stage wins would take him to 28 and joint-second place on the all-time list with five-times winner Bernard Hinault. That would be a phenomenal achievement, but his goal is the same as it has always been.
“If you’re good enough to win one stage, you’re one of the best riders on the planet,” he claims. “If I win one stage, I will be happy. If I don’t then I won’t be happy.”
He is also refreshingly honest about his motivation. “Commercially, if I win one stage every Tour that trumps everything else you can do in the year.” It’s possible he knows such opportunities will not be around forever.
Mark Cavendish is an ambassador for American Pistachio Growers. Cavendish has declared the American-grown pistachio nut as his Official Snack.Reuse content