Friday, 9 July 2010

Cavendish cries on podium as stage victory is his

In 2007 a fresh faced, curly haired, young Manxman joined the travelling community known as the Tour de France for his debut journey. Aged just 22, you could forgive many Brits for not knowing either who he was or what he would achieve. For in Britain, you understand, the average person could probably tell you they had heard of Chris Boardman, Sir Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins following the former's sucess on the Tour and the latters track success at the Olympics in Athens. Forgive us because as a nation, football is our thing. Our school boys trade match attack cards and our cars are decked with the Cross of St George flag for the World Cup, but there are few union flags flying for our cyclists. Then, last year, something historical happened, and the young man, having achieved something unprecidented, shot to fame. Overnight he had become a household name, and was shortlisted for the annual accolade of BBC Sportspersonality of the year. This young man, who had begun racing at 13, achieved not only winning six stages, but by becoming the first British rider to win on the Champs Eleysees. This man was Mark Cavendish.

A year later, and on the eve of the Tour, high hopes and the all consuming pressure that comes with it, had been placed on the shoulders of the man who, at only 25 years old, had achieved so much. How many stages would he win this year? And more importantly, could he win the Mailot Vert? Were two questions on the lips of so many. Stage one saw him crash out on a tight bend following a lot of pushing and shoving, and he was blammed by many. Then came the go-slow and the neutralisation of the points, and on stage 4, a beaten Cav sat up short from the line. The tantrums and anger, the emotion and the silence said it all. Cav was not happy. On a day when Alessandro Petacchi should have stolen all headlines with his second win in four days, Cavendish was the man everyone was writing about.

Could he do it? Was he up to it? Would he retire? Were now the questions being asked. Few seemed to realise the difference in age and experience between the young Manxman and the stage victor. Here was a man, with so much pressure and so much expectation to realise, who had only completed one full Tour in 3 years as a ProTour rider.

As he crossed the line, finally it seemed, in first place on Stage 5, the emotion for which Cav is loved and criticised for in equal measure, became to much. There was no hidding the floods of tears now streaming down his face. When interviewed he spoke only of his team. For many, this reminded them why his fans loved him and why the peloton, though critical at times over his style, respected him. The thanks he gives his team, the way he finds all the members on the line to hug them, when he can hardly stand himself, is a restoration of a faith in humanity and common decency. If nothing else, it is proof of the gentleman he is, despite what his critics may have us all believe.

I make no apology of the fact that for me, he is my favourite rider. 2007 was the first Tour I watched from start to finish. For me, there was something, even then, about the way he rode, that spoke to me of the passion and the pain that symbolises what it is to be a ProTour rider. Watching him cross the line, on the edge of my seat, with my hand to my mouth and my heart in my throat, was an experience I will never forget.

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