Mark Cavendish is a rider who splits the cycling community. On the one side are the fans who use words like ‘brilliant’, ‘inspirational’ and ‘exciting’ and on the other are his critics who say he’s ‘arrogant’, ‘cocky’ and ‘brash’. The one thing both these groups have in common is that for the most part they don’t know him, except for what they see on the TV and read in the press. They make their initial judgement and whatever he does only goes to reinforce their views. But who’s right? Is he a nice guy or not?
In 2006 while riding for the GB academy alongside the likes of Swift, Stannard, Thomas and Tennant, I spent the season living in the Tuscan town of Quaratta along with the rest of the squad. Midway through the year Cav who was just about to start his trial with T-Mobile came to live in the house, and as there was a spare bed in my room we became roommates. It was then I was able to discover the enigma that is Cav.
Most people would describe me as very quiet and calm, almost the exact opposite of Cav, which meant that a personality clash was inevitable. Initially I have to say I didn’t like my new lodger at all. He was in my face from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. It was like living with a combination of Tigger from Winnie the Poo, and the Tasmanian Devil. He was loud, full of energy and with supreme self confidence. The fact that he slept naked didn’t help. Some mornings, sight was my least favourite of the five senses.
Over time I got used to living with a whirlwind and I learnt to admire Cav’s riding. Even though he was a sprinter he could still make me hurt on the climbs if he put his mind to it, and on one ride we did together and got totally lost, we spent the last hour out of six in a duel half wheeling each other home.
Despite not being on the house cooking rota Cav insisted on doing his part, though this didn’t involve spending time in the kitchen. Instead he would take us to a restaurant and take out the stack of 50 Euro notes he had won in Germany, to pay for our meal. He might have been trouble to his rivals but he was certainly generous to his team mates.
Cav while being all mouth in public also had a softer side. Not often noted in the media is that he is actually very intelligent and he certainly spent a lot of his time doing Sudoku. One night when I was about to go to sleep he said ‘can we talk?’ and we spent a while having a heart to heart talking about the issues in his life. One minute he’s Tigger, the next he’s Owl.
Our alliance was more like the profile of a mountain stage than a sprint stage. Friends one minute, enemies the next. A week before the u-23 world champs in Salzburg I finally cracked after Cav started laughing about how I was no good at cornering and how I would lose time on the technical section of the course. In hindsight commenting on his weight and climbing ability followed by a swear word or two probably wasn’t the best response.
The atmosphere was somewhat tense, until I think we both realised we were still sharing a room and we had the best riders in the world to take on a few days later. Cav was the first to apologise, which was nice as what I had said was worse. We made up, forgot about it and got on better after that. I think he realised he had took things too far. Even though he has a habit of speaking before he thinks, I think he regrets some of it later.
I even swapped seats with him on the 2nd leg of our journey to Salzburg after I somehow got a business seat with a meal. It was wasted on him though as he was sat next to a member of staff from CSC so didn’t eat the chocolate for fear of creating a bad impression. He was gutted about that.
In the worlds the team gave it 100% chasing the break on the last lap. Unfortunately it split near the end and Cav finished 11th. I was as upset as him, being part of a world champs winning team would have been something to cherish, and he was a great leader to ride for if you kept the right side of him.
As it is 5 years later, Cav got his world champs jersey. I didn’t cry or jump up and down, we’re neither friends nor enemies these days, I only see him on TV or at the National Road Race champs. But I can’t help but respect him as a rider.
What I can say is whatever people's opinions of Cav, they have to realise he’s a person just like the rest of us. And like all people, he has good points and bad points. It’s just unfortunate that the fans only get to see a snap shot of his life and are forced to make an instant decision about him. So for those that hate Cav, I’d say he probably isn’t as bad as you think. And to the fans who think he’s some sort of god like figure, I can assure you he’s nowhere near perfect.
Whatever you believe or think you believe about Cav as a person, there’s one thing that everyone has to agree on. He’s an amazing bike rider, and almost certainly the best road rider that the UK has produced.
As for my opinion of Cav, I’d say he’s like marmite, you either love him or hate him. Or in my case both, often on the same day….
Thanks for reading.