1. He’s not a numbers man
Modern cycling is a numbers game. The science of it is down to heart rates, power output and VO2 max – it’s a statisticians dream. There are lots of cyclists who dismiss the modern way of doing things and see cycling as an art as much as a science – Frenchman Thomas Voeckler for example, is known to ride without using a power meter or heart rate monitor, preferring to ride on feel and instinct – but Cavendish manages to be an artist on the bike and simultaneously one of the most successful bike racers of all time.
Despite being by far the most successful sprinter in cycling for the past five years or so it’s often been said that Cavendish’s numbers – the scientific measurement of his ability to ride quickly on a bike – aren’t exceptional. This is all relative of course. His power output is massive, but there are plenty of sprinters who reputedly generate more power but get beaten by Cavendish consistently.
The reason? He’s a racer. He picks the right wheel, the right line and the right moments better than the rest, and he uses his elbows when he needs to. He also has a an obsessive attention to detail and a near pathological will to win.
2. The brothers in arms routine
To win races regularly, sprinters need a team to put them there. The Cavendish era (can we say that…it seems grand?) has sparked an interest in the art of the ‘lead out train’ never before seen in Britain. Who can forget the sight of his Aussie wing-man Mark Renshaw in the HTC days, bullying and muscling his way to the front of the pack, 500 metres to go, Cav glued to his wheel. The moment he exits Renshaw’s slipstream and makes a burst for the line, the Aussie’s arms go up – no one’s catching him now.
Call me sentimental, but the brotherly love routine after each win – almost tearfully thanking his men for their effort and commitment to the cause – has always seemed real to me. All sprinters thank their teams – they pay them a percentage of the win bonus too – but Cavendish is an emotional soul who seems to mean it.
Obviously for a British bloke to be emoting like that is a bit weird – he clearly spent too long living in Tuscany and absorbed some of the Italian temperament – but we’ll forgive him. When it comes down to it, the truth is that any one of us emotionally repressed British blokes would give our right arm to be thanked tearfully by Mark Cavendish.
3. He’s catching up with Eddy Merckx in terms of Tour de France stage wins….yes….Eddy Merckx!
How can anyone have more wins than Merckx? Have we done a recount? That doesn’t sound right, are we sure?
He hasn’t done it yet but just to be having this conversation about a British rider…about any rider…is a remarkable thing. Cavendish is currently on 25 Tour de France stage wins, 3 behind the granite tough Breton Bernard Hinault. Merckx won a total of 34. For years cycling commentators have been talking about this as if it’s a nailed on certainty; if Cavendish, who is currently 28 years old, won 2 stages per year for the next 5 years he would eclipse Merckx.
This is all assuming no major injuries or other disruptions to his form and fitness. With guy’s like Kittel and Greipel breathing down his neck already, that will be some effort.
So will he overtake Merckx? It’s hard to bet against him but it’s no done deal – personally I have a tendency to focus negatively on all the variables that could come into play (just ONE of the reasons I am no Mark Cavendish). It became clear in the Tour de France 2103 that there is a crop of very quick men now breathing down his neck, and that if his lead out train isn’t functioning well he can be beatable. Could Germany’s Marcel Kittel assume the mantle of Alpha Male of the sprinting world and put a stop to the Briton’s winning run?
To this point in his career Cavendish’s strike rate has been frankly unreasonable and it feels counter-intuitive to doubt him.