So I accosted Mark Cavendish at a talk he was giving to the staff from newspaper group, News Inernational, where I was currently working for The Sunday Times.
After taking a seat I very determinedly did not peer round to look at the amateur cyclist behind me who was busy explaining her mashed-up face to her colleagues: ‘I used my face as a brake and lost a tooth last week.’
Back to the matter in hand – new daddy and road-race and track-king, Mark Cavendish.
The Isle of Man native, nicknamed the Manx Missile, has won three world championships, two on the track, one on the road and also Tour de France sprinter extraordinaire.
I didn’t record this so I’m paraphrasing – hopefully in line with what he actually meant.
On his new baby, Delilah Grace, and glamour model girlfriend, Peta Todd
Everyone said to me that it was a life changing experience to have a baby and it might affect my cycling. It did. It just made me more determined to make every second count in the 200 days a year that I’m away from my family.
On his altered perspective since fatherhood
I used to get really emotional and angry with stuff that happened during a race and come out fuming and angry at the end of it, but now I see my baby at the end of the race and forget what I was annoyed about.
On giving short shrift on a not-very-well-researched question
Have you ever tried track cycling and how do you feel you’d get on?
“I was twice world champion on the track.”
On his game face
Every pedal push is planned, every training session.
I haven’t got time to be happy, angry, sad, tired or emotional when I’m training or doing a race.
Every aspect of what I’m trying to do means that everything builds up, and when I get to the end of a race, that’s when all the emotion comes out.
On being a lightweight
I’ve lost four kilos to prepare for the Olympic course around Box Hill. I don’t need the muscle as I can beat the other sprinters despite being a bit lighter.
I don’t think I’ll win so many stages on the Tour de France but I can still win the Green Jersey (for best cumulative sprinter). It’s a risk I’m willing to take to make sure I can compete in the Olympics, too.
Racing for your country with the flag under which you were born on your jersey means a lot. Which would I rather win? Both.
On how he’ll prepare in the six days between the Tour de France and the Olympics
I’ll be in bed a lot and I’ll tick over with the cycling – like the engine of a car. I’ll do three or four hours gentle cycling a day.
On what makes him a cut above the rest
Pause for ten seconds. I don’t know.
Maybe other riders don’t train so hard they end up vomiting. I train harder, mentally and physically, than everyone else.
On his day job
My job, and the job of the team, is to get our sponsors’ logos noticed and the best way I can do that is by crossing the line first.
So it’s not that the other eight are trying to help me to win the medals and get all the glory. It’s about all of us doing our jobs for the sponsor.
It’s very much a team effort – even though I tend to get the attention when we win equally I get the negative press when we don’t.
On why he loves cycling
I love the inclusive nature of it – people lining the streets and getting really into it.
The cars, photographers, motorbikes, that go along with it – they pay my wage so they don’t bother me.
Cycling is not like a gladiatorial sport where you can’t get near the sportspeople. People are right there.
The road is our office, basically, so there is a camaraderie between people, but the Germans don’t really get my banter.
On self-confessed but reformed drug-taker cyclist, David Millar, who’s been cleared to compete for Team GB
I would be very happy to have David Millar on my team. It’s not for me to decide who should and shouldn’t race. If he’s clear to race I want him on the team as I want the best team around me.
On who should be the lead rider in the women’s road race. Currently a spat between defending Olympic champion, Nicole Cooke, and new-girl-on-the-block Lizzie Armitstead
We’ve got a great women’s team as well and we should end up with gold in both road races. Nicely avoided, said I. Cav smiled.
On what to look out for to see if he’s doing well in the Olympic road race
The best option for winning gold is if we’re all in a big pack towards the end. If there’s a breakaway of four or five riders, it’s a lot more difficult for me.
My main competitiors should hopefully help me win gold as they should be wanting to get in a big group as well rather than letting any riders breakaway.
I’m not worried about the sprinters, it’s more about the hill riders who could break me before I even get to go for the sprint finish.
I’ve been lucky with injury. I hastily scan the area to touch wood, as surely that’s tempting fate, non? Not had any broken bones… well, I broke my toe once but that was to do with a scooter. The bike and I tend to bounce pretty well.
Clearly not the touching wood, thing. I don’t put my numbers on my jersey the night before, always the day of the race. Something I learned from [tour legend] Eddy Merckx when I first started out and shared a room with him.
On any affection he has for his bikes
I’ve still got the one I won world championships on. It’s not been washed and I’ve got the skin suit I wore, too.
I believe you can do anything you want to do, if you work hard enough.
As the talk ends, we’re told Cav is happy to do a few signed photos, so naturally I put on a sprint that even Cav himself would be proud of and got myself to the front.
Allowing a slight pause while he chomped on some grapes – mindful of the point in his talk where he said if people want photos and stuff that’s fine but don’t be grabbing my arm, you wouldn’t do that to someone on the street, or if you do you’re an imbecile – or words to that effect, I waited mid-munch until I asked if I could have a photo with him.
Unable to respond because he had his mouth full I jumped next to him and then tried to take one of those photos when you hold the camera up high trying to get you both in.
Quickly realising this was a fruitless exercise I asked a nice fella in a blazer if he’d mind taking the photo for me.
After a quick snapshot of our silhouettes lit up against the window I peeled away to let the enormous queue behind me have their turn, but not before wishing Cav luck and saying ‘I’m really excited for you’.
His ‘I’m a machine’ veneer slipped and his eyes glistened as he saw my enthusiasm for his sport, a sport I’d unlikely give a second glance if it wasn’t for his trailblazing route to our sporting consciousness.
Mark Cavendish on Twitter (but be warned from the man himself: “Disclaimer: May cause offence.”)
Peta Tod on Twitter Cav’s girlfriend and biggest fan. Great insider to follow on Twitter when her man races. Gets very feisty one minute, then puts a pic of Cav asleep on sofa with baby Delilah asleep on his chest the next.
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