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‘A nice guy but a bit of a pain in the ass’: the Tour’s verdict on Cavendish
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‘A nice guy but a bit of a pain in the ass’: the Tour’s verdict on Cavendish

The seemingly bottomless drive that propelled Mark Cavendish past Eddy Merckx to hold the record for stage wins at the Tour de France outright has won him many admirers through his career. But it has also ruffled plenty of feathers among his rivals and sometimes even his own teammates.

His win in Saint-Vulbas on Wednesday that took him to 55 Grand Tour stages wins – 35 and counting at Le Tour, 17 in the Giro d’Italia and three in the Vuelta a España, earned plaudits around the world and a little bristling from some quarters in the peloton.

“He’s a nice guy to have a chat with, but if you’re in the final of a sprint, he can be a pain in the ass,” says Silvan Dillier, an Alpecin–Deceuninck teammate to the rival sprinter Jasper Philipsen, who has also raced against Cavendish on the track.

One of those who knows Cavendish best is veteran team manager Patrick Lefevere, who had the British sprinter in his ranks on two occasions, between 2013 to 2015 and 2021 to 2022.

“The desire is something always in him,” Lefevere says. “He has been hit by bad luck so many times. The year before he came to us in 2021, nobody believed in him.”

Lefevere even admitted that he had been among those to question the wisdom of Cavendish’s decision to postpone his retirement until the end of 2024. “Sometimes, this year, I even said to myself: ‘What the fuck is he doing?’ On the Tour’s first day, when I saw him dropped, I thought: ‘Oh no! This really is one year too many,’ but on the second day I could see he was better.”

“I know him well,” the Belgian said. “I saw that his pedalling on the second day was better than the first day and I thought: ‘If he survives the Col du Galibier, [on stage four] then watch out.”

Cavendish is a phenomenally-gifted sprinter who also has an obsessive streak of perfectionism. Like Roy Keane, he leads by example and expects those around him to follow. Like Keane, he has also had running feuds with some of his rivals, such as the retired sprinter Heinrich Haussler.

Heinrich Haussler (left) and Mark Cavendish in a sprintView image in fullscreen

“I don’t respect him as a rider or as a person,” Haussler said after the pair tangled earlier in Cavendish’s career.

There have also been fallings-out closer to home, for example with Bradley Wiggins at the Beijing Olympics, when Wiggins’ performance in the Madison left Cavendish as the only member of the cycling team not to claim a medal.

He has slammed doors, hurled helmets and grabbed dictaphones. In July 2021, after winning four stages on that year’s Tour, he was caught on camera phone berating his mechanic at the start of stage 19. “Sort it out!” he bellowed, before storming back to his team bus and emitting a flurry of F-words.

Cavendish apologised within hours, saying: “I should not have reacted the way I did,” and added: “They know how short I can be when I’m stressed, no one deserve(s) to have a voice raised to them.’”

Lefevere smiled when asked if his former rider is a perfectionist. “Not always,” he said. “When he came to us after winter one year, and had put on 10 kilos – but he always gets sharp again.”

“He’s a little bit: ‘I love you, I hate you.’ But if he tells you where to go, his virtue is that he comes back and says: ‘Sorry.’”

“During the years that he was not in our team,” Lefevere recalls, “I went to London a few times. If I didn’t let him know I was there, he’d get upset. He always invited me to the best restaurants. He never asked to see the colour of my money. In this sense, he is a gentleman.”

With his team now dialled in, Cavendish may yet win more stages in this Tour. There is no debate that Merckx, as winner of Grand Tours and classics, time trials and summit finishes, eclipses the 39-year-old’s achievement, but there has never been a bike rider whose rage to succeed has remained so intense, for so many years.

Source: theguardian.com