Revitalized Mark Cavendish deserves all accolades after hard ride

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Mark Cavendish suffered from Epstein Barr and depression (Photo: Getty)

I clearly remember the first time I interviewed Mark Cavendish. It was a sunny day in late spring Soho Square in London, just before the 2010 Tour de France.

While the gathered media waited, my Sky News team and I settled into a park bench where I sat nervously going through my notes. I say “nervously”, but really, I was pretty terrified, as my brother had warned me I should be.

I was a journalist at the time and it was my first foray into sport, the first of my ten Tours de France so far. Cavendish was already a ten-time Tour stage winner and his reputation was almost as scary off the bike as he was on the bike, suffering fools as disdainfully as his rivals.

My brother, Cathal, was passionate about cycling and had informed me well on the issues most relevant to fans of the sport at the time; don’t ask him about the stage wins, instead talk about the change in the points system this year, find out about his lead, of course, but don’t seem ignorant. He will feel it.

As it turned out, Cavendish was softly spoken, charming and amiable to the interviewee, but I never forgot that first lesson, reinforced for me by the man himself over the years: ‘Don’t make a statement to me , ask me a question and I will give you an appropriate answer. You don’t want to be at the end of a deathly stare from Cavendish at the end of a race after saying ‘it was a tricky sprint’, and hope he gets back on track.

See, Cavendish isn’t in this game for the ride, and he doesn’t expect you to be either. He has immense respect for hard work and expects everyone to show up prepared for the job, including journalists.

56th Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey
Mark Cavendish won the gold medal after the 160.3km Bodrum-Kusadasi stage on the eighth and final day of the 56th Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey (Photo: Getty)

That’s part of what has made him such a fascinating and, let’s be honest, divisive character in his 14 years so far at the pinnacle of professional road racing. He says what he thinks, gets in trouble but doesn’t hide his tears either.

It’s the softer side of that raw emotion that fans have been heating up on most lately, but it’s the harsher side, the inner fighter, that brought him here.

The unanimous celebration of cycling and beyond for the Cavendish quartet of recent victories has been exceptional and heartwarming. Until the Manxman won four stages at the Tour of Turkey last week, he had not crossed the finish line with his arms raised in three years. It’s five years since his last Tour de France victory, cutting short a successful French campaign of three stage wins to try another shot at Olympic glory in Rio, where he walked away with a silver medal.

But while her battle with Epstein Barr and the depression that followed on his way back to the podium was public, it was almost certainly also incredibly lonely. It is a universal truth that no matter how many people show up to cheer on your accomplishments, only a very small number will be there to hold your hand through the dark times. If you are lucky. For a man whose name has been written in pencil in the history books for years as the successor to Eddy Merckx’s 34 stage victories on the Tour, and who was stuck on an albeit exceptional 30, limbo has was particularly painful.

In many ways, Cavendish’s victories last week were not for those who celebrated the loudest, enthusiastic fans and admiring commentators, but for those who understood how much they had been earned; for Cavendish himself and the small circle of family and loved ones who have gone through it all with him.

And yet, sport is nothing if not a chance for all of us to experience the ups and downs of life through others. He will forgive us, I’m sure, for taking the personal and individual solace of his validation journey, his proof of the power of hard work and self-confidence, the humility it takes to fall nine times. and get up ten times. . These lessons are for all of us, because that’s ultimately what sport – and being a sports fan – means.

That’s why I would love to see Cavendish line up for this year’s Tour de France. There is an argument that he doesn’t need a final trip or two to France to sign his career, having achieved a fine streak of 150 professional victories. We do, however. We have to see it again.

If nothing else, it would be a chance to celebrate sporting greatness while she’s still with us, rather than thinking about it once she’s gone.

Whether he can come close to that Merckx record is now irrelevant. Haunted for so long by what he could still accomplish rather than celebrated for all he had, one final lap would be a chance to chase away those ghosts from the future with a standing ovation for arguably the greatest sprinter than the greatest. bike racing has ever seen.

Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France, one last time? This is what many cycling fans would love to see.

These days at least, we know that if fans scream loud enough sometimes, sometimes they can cope.

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