Cycling: King of the road Cavendish has mark of Classic star
Former UK cycling champion Tony Doyle on why the Manxman is striking fear into rivals around the world
Friday 03 April 2009
The Team Columbia man's victory in the Milan-San Remo race 10 days ago, coming after he burst on to the scene in 2008 with his two stage wins in the Giro d'Italia and four in the Tour de France, was one of the all-time great achievements by a British rider. It's a huge race, and what Mark did stunned the cycling world. It raised him to a whole new level. Plus it showed that, after all the success we've had on the track in recent years, we can be a major force on the road too.
Yesterday was the climax of the Three Days of De Panne – the traditional warm-up race for the series of fierce challenges that dominate the calendar in northern Europe at this time of year. It's no picnic itself. The riders cover 500km (313 miles) in the three days, along the Belgian coast, and the roads are narrow and there are a lot of traffic islands to negotiate.
Mark responded amazingly, winning two of the four stages – and just for good measure Bradley Wiggins won the individual time trial that concluded proceedings yesterday. I don't ever recall a Continental stage race where two British riders won three stages between them.
Mark's real focus is on two Classics next week – Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, also in Belgium, and the historic Paris-Roubaix the following Sunday, which is always a fight for survival on the pavés, and it's a matter of luck if you avoid crashing.
Ghent-Wevelgem has traditionally been a sprint finish, but when Mark rode it last year he didn't have the experience or the nerve to contest it. I was with him at the world track championships in Poland over the weekend and again in Belgium this week and that's all changed. Everyone knows he's the best sprint finisher in the world right now.
The frustration winter training. Milan-San Remo fuelled his appetite for success and gave him a massive confidence over his performance at the Beijing Olympics, when he and Wiggins could only finish eighth in the madison and Mark went home without a medal, made him all the more determined when he went into his boost. And his performance in the De Panne showed he is going from strength to strength.
Mark's always hungry for wins. That's why he went to the world track championships in Poland, where I thought the GB team did a lot better than they had credit for.
But attention is moving on. Mark can achieve much more in Classics and stage races, and British Cycling aims to have a team at the start of the 2010 Tour de France. We've shown we can conquer the world on the track. Now we can do it on the road.
Tony Doyle MBE won two track world championship titles, in 1980 and 1986
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