What’s not to like about Mark Cavendish, the young cyclist from the Isle of Man who has exceeded all expectations by topping the unofficial sprinters’ league this season with more wins (17) than anyone else – six of them against the best riders in the ‘grands Tours’.
All sprinters need a bit of ego, and when Cavendish announced in June that he was the fastest rider in the peloton over the last 200m of a sprint it was difficult to tell if it was youthful arrogance or not. Four stage wins in the Tour de France – when he was untouchable in the bunch sprints – suggested it wasn’t.
But it has been his demeanour in winning that has made him so likeable. When he won his third stage in the Tour his first response was to look for Bernhard Eisel, a Columbia team-mate who shepherded him through the Pyrenees after Cavendish had crashed. Invited to compare himself with Barry Hoban, the British sprinter who won eight Tour stages in the 70s, he was respectful, saying that Hoban didn’t have as good a team as he did. In the Giro d’Italia, by all accounts, having won two stages he was well-placed to win a third, but instead marked one of his competitors and let a team-mate take the victory. After a stage in which he had crashed and struggled, he was asked about his day by an interviewer. His reply was to the effect that he had worked in a bank when he was younger, and he never forgot that he was now getting paid to ride bikes for a living.
The icing for me came in an interview in Pro Cycling magazine, where the interviewer asks him about his time as a national level child dance competitor. His mum has a dancewear shop, which is why he ended up on the dancefloor. It seemed that he had been teased about this.
“To me it was a competition, and a competition is a competition in my book. And the best thing of all was that I met my girlfriend through it. So people can say what they like – I got the best thing in my life out of it.”
Let’s face it, it’s not the sort of reply you’d get from Ronaldo.