Cavendish: 'Rough diamond' born with the drive to sparkle

He is a 'one-off' says his national coach and could become an all-time great

The most obvious reason why Mark Cavendish makes such an appropriate BBC Sports Personality Of The Year is that no other male Briton has ever achieved so much in a single season of road-racing. As Cav himself would put it in other contexts, "it's simple as".

Victory in the world road-race championship alone, the most unpredictable, mentally taxing and strategically complicated of all cycling's one-day events, would have been enough to make Cavendish a prime candidate. So too would victory in the Tour de France's green points jersey for best sprinter, the first ever for a British rider.

Yet there's more: his total of five stage wins in a single Tour de France has only ever been outstripped by one British performance – Cavendish himself in 2009.

"He's not just the most outstanding rider of his generation – he's one of the most outstanding of all time now. He's a one-off," British Cycling's team principal, Dave Brailsford, told The Independent yesterday. "Not only is he one of Britain's top sports stars internationally, he's got the personality to go with it,".

"I remember the first time I ever met him [in 2002], he turned up at the velodrome in his little hatchback Nova and, when I asked him what he wanted to do in his career, he told me he was going to be the fastest man in the world."

"At the time he was a bit of a rough diamond, but he's done exactly what he said he would do, which is unbelievable. And for cycling to have won Sports Personality of the Year twice in four years [Sir Chris Hoy won in 2008] really reflects how the sport is going forward."

It is not just British records that Cavendish has smashed this year. No other pro has ever taken three victories on the Champs-Elysées, the Tour's yearly finale so prestigious that it is dubbed the sprinters' "world championship". Cavendish not only did that, he won it three times in a row.

"He's put together a palmares in a short time that most pros would dream of in an entire career. He deserves every accolade he gets." Brailsford added. "When somebody is such a prolific winner, it's not just talent. Cavendish does think and plan his performances, and that was never more evident than at this year's world championship, when he went over and and over and over that course."

"He planned it meticulously, he left nothing to chance and with all greats, everybody expected him to do the business and he rose to the occasion."

The list goes on, to the point where, for one already Britain's most successful road cyclist and the greatest sprinter of his generation, there is every chance Cavendish will become cycling's greatest sprinter ever.

Just one example: only one sprinter in the history of the sport has taken more Tour de France stages – the French legend of the 1950s and 1960s André Darrigade has 22 to Cavendish's 20. It would only be surprising, now, if that record does not fall next July. Even all-time great Eddy Merckx's seemingly unreachable record of 34 Tour stages is no longer an unreasonable target.

What lies underneath such towering achievements is a hugely impressive level of consistency – winning a minimum of four stages in every Tour for the last four years. In the last decade only the way Lance Armstrong racked up seven straight Tours overshadows that record.

Statistics as impressive as these, though, could only ever be only one reason why Cavendish strikes a chord with so many fans. Another is his all-out passion for his sport, so infectious and inspiring his seven British team-mates sacrificed any chances they might have had of a medal in the world championship to ensure his victory – with no financial reward, either.

There can be no doubting its authenticity. As early as 2007, the first time I interviewed him and asked the rather trite question of whether he was enjoying life as a first-year pro as he thought he would, Cavendish said "I'm absolutely loving it. It's too hard not to.

"I was already thinking the other week I would dread the day I retire because I would miss it so much. I love it. The team always take the mick out of me because I'm always going around saying, 'I fucking love it'."

Regularly written off in his early days as having the "wrong" physique for a pro – "the individuals who have questioned me over the years haven't so much misunderstood my capacities as they've misunderstood cycling," was his response – Cavendish, who can be outspoken, has never let that lack of faith in his potential get in the way of his ambitions .

As early as 2007, he was already talking about winning the world championship and the Tour's green jersey; they were, he told me, "dreams I'd love to fulfil". And with those now safely in his saddlebag, capturing Britain's first Olympic gold next summer is a challenge which – knowing Cavendish – the 26 year-old Manxman will positively relish every pedalstroke it takes him to achieve.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015