To a British cycling fan of a certain age – raised on a diet of the occasional Chris Boardman prologue win and the odd mid-peloton mention of Charly Wegelius – Mark Cavendish is something of a sporting god.
He lunged, in 2009, to win Milan-San Remo by half an inch. In 2011 he was World Champ. And for year after year he gave us a proper, un-ironic, heartfelt reason to watch the Tour de France.
We no longer had to try and penetrate the personality of Pedro Delgado or translate the cryptic mutterings of Laurent Fignon. We had one of our own. We had Cav.
Honest, says-it-like-it-is, down to earth, Cav.
I have cycling friends for whom Cavendish is never far from their thoughts. He rides, frantically, on a mental loop in their minds, down the Champs Elysees. Flanked by Bernie and Renshaw. Spittle flecked swear-word on the tip of his tongue. Pulverising the opposition.
Wiggins, in 2012, taught us to appreciate the percentages and endure to victory, but Cav was visceral.
Out of your seat, hands in the air, beer down your t-shirt.
That he reached thirty Tour de France stage wins would have seemed implausible had we not sat through each one and witnessed the utter inevitability of his dominance. Second only to Eddy Merckx, for goodness sake.
As efforts go it’s Herculean.
It’s almost Merckx-ian.Embed from Getty Images
And yet, on the eve of the 2019 Tour, he misses out; not selected by his team, after a couple of years of struggle and illness. Based on current form, understandable, but disappointing nonetheless. It’d be a huge leap of faith to imagine him surging back to form, from nowhere, in the fastest, most frenzied race of them all.
How can the Tour de France career of a man with thirty stage wins feel like it’s fizzling out?
The passing of time is cruel.
Someone needs to figure out the physics of it and grind time to a halt. Rewind to 2007 so we can watch it all unfold, again, in real time.
We enjoyed it first time, but if we’d known about Trump, and Brexit, and Boris, and the imminent destruction of humanity in a tsunami of AI and climate disaster, we’d really have soaked it all in.
Basked in every tantrum, tear-up, and teary-eyed brothers-in-arms post-victory eulogy.
Who can be the new Cavendish? Ewan? Gaviria? Groenewegen?
No. He was a once-in-a-generation. On the bike, off the bike, winning, losing, standing on the steps of the team bus and taking on the world.
Nice one Cav.
It’s been emotional.
(Top Image: William Morice [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D)