Something quite extraordinary happened in late September. One of Great Britain’s sportsmen lived up to his billing as the favourite of a competition and successfully became a world champion.
In a gruelling 266km race around the streets of Copenhagen, Mark Cavendish became the Road Cycling champion of the world, beating a field that included cycling superstars such as Thomas Voeckler, Frank Schleck, Andre Greipel and defending champion Thor Hushovd.
An integral part of a strong British team, Cavendish had found himself isolated and bunched up with opposition riders 2km from the races’ end, but he blasted the field away with his trademark acceleration – confirming his reputation as the most destructive sprinter in world cycling.
It was a remarkable victory. ‘Cav’ managed to squeeze his way through groups of riders content to block his path and manoeuvred himself into an outside line where he could sprint for the finish line and win in impressive fashion.
Victory makes Cavendish the first British Road Cycling world champion in 46 years since Tom Simpson won gold in 1965. Furthermore, the “Manx Missile” did it having been crowned the winner of the Tour de France’s Green sprinters jersey – a double that hasn’t been achieved in 30 years. At the age of 26 he already has 20 Tour de France stage victories to his name.
He is, quite simply, the quickest man on a road bike in the world.
Cavendish’s meteoric rise to the top of the cycling world has gone largely noticed in mainstream media. It is ironic that a sport in which Great Britain thrives and dominates remains out of the spotlight.
Fellow British rider David Millar likens Mark Cavendish to the ‘Beckham of cycling, just not in Britain’. Cycling gets limited publicity in Britain whereas in cycling hotbeds such as France, Italy, the USA and Spain Cavendish is deified. He remains a household name throughout Europe, despite the continent’s vast array of sporting preoccupations. Whether Cavendish is as fond of the attention as Beckham himself is doubtful, but it is astounding that Britain has such a pedigree in cycling yet many of us are unaware of it.
On the verge of an Olympic year, and with a wealth of world-class cyclists at Britain’s disposal, surely it is only a matter of time before cycling receives the domestic attention and exposure it’s deserving of.
Sir Chris Hoy’s memorable exploits at the 2008 Beijing Olympics made him a national hero and earned him a Knighthood, yet Cavendish’s achievements haven’t received the same acclaim – not because they aren’t as special, but simply because they lacked the same exposure.
Britain is one of the world’s best cycling nations – It’s about time people knew about it.
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