In August 2008 headlines in the mainstream sports media switched from endless stories about the dirty world of druggie Pro-cycling to glorious tributes to Dave Brailsford’s Team GB Cyclists. Mostly the Track boys and girls, but a nod here and there to the wonderful Welshwoman Nicole Cook. By September cycling was almost forgotten bar a tiny tiny wee mention for Nicole who did the never-before done double of winning Olympic Gold and The World Championship.
In January 2009 the worst kept secret in sport was out in the public arena. Yes, Lance Armstrong was back and had the rules changed so that he could compete in season-opener, The Tour Downunder.
Now far be it from me to carp about cycling getting headlines for good reasons, but when I saw the one this weekend at:
it made my blood boil.
“Lance finishes well back of Cavendish”
Outrageous. What it should have read was:
“Cycling Superstar The Manx Express Cavendish breaks 45 year British duck to win Classic”
Armstrong is a has-been [and yes, I will publicly eat my words if he wins anything this year] whose reasons for returning to the sport are far from clear and who has a questionable reputation. Not for winning all his Tours fired up with dubious substances – I think that has been long laid to rest for lack of evidence – but for the way he went about his racing. He never aspired to do anything else except win Le Tour and made sure that when he raced, his team was made up of the best super-domestiques money could buy to ensure that they could burn off the opposition. Now there is nothing inherently wrong in winning that way, but no-one could convincingly argue that it was in the spirit of the sport, or that it actually did the sport any good.
What happened in San Remo on Saturday 21 March was the breath of fresh air that cycling needs so desperately and the coverage of SuperCav’s win has been pretty underwhelming.
There are pieces in the mainstream media. The Guardian has this:
The Times has this:
Reading either of these pieces might presuppose a casual reader to the idea that the sporting press gives a shit about cycling. They don’t and nowhere, except here or in the specialist media has anyone had much to say about the phenomenon that is Mark Cavendish.
Mark Cavendish is one of the brightest stars shining on the cycling, indeed sporting, stage and as if winning four stages of Le Tour last year wasn’t enough, he’s just gone and done the business and won one of the most famous one-day Classics on the cycling calendar. And he wasn’t even in it to win it. Before the season started Mark said of this race that he’d never done it before and although “2009 is going to be massive” he [didn’t] “expect the victories to come reeling off like they did in 2008 [he took 17 wins last year]. It just won’t happen.”
Understand that Mark is not the shy and retiring type. He has a level of confidence that is oft perceived as arrogance and he is no stranger to comments that border on the offensive – his views on Belgian Golden (Cocaine) Boy Tom Boonen are well-publicised.
So for his season to have started as it has: the first outing resulted in two stage wins in the Tour of Qatar in the first week of February. A week later our man trolled over to the States to take part in the Tour of California – rapidly gaining kudos and importance in the view of cycling enthusiasts, and guess what – he took Stages Four and Five.
Then he consolidated his form, picking up the final stage win of the Tirreno-Adriatico giving him five stage wins in the opening races of the season and on a par with Mattia Gavazzi (not in his class, a winner in Langkawi for goodness sake!), and ahead of Italian superstar Daniele Bennati.
Winning Milan-San Remo, and in the style that he did – by a tyre’s breath (or even breadth) from Germany’s Heinrich Haussler (second to Contador in Paris-Nice earlier in March) confirms the utter class of this British cyclist. Boonen needled Mark constantly before the race suggesting that any fast fool can win sprints in a stage race but only a great rider wins a Classic.
Mark’s response – blow Boonen away over the climbs and win one of the best Classics on the calendar. At his first attempt. At only 23.
It is clear to me that Mark is well on the way to being one of the very best in the world, worthy to take over the mantle of that prince of sprinters and all-round good guy: Robbie McEwen
Robbie finished 67th in San Remo last weekend. He’s closing on 37 years of age, truly old for a pro-cyclist but I have no doubt at all that he would rather see his crown pass to SuperCav than CocoBoon.
However before Mark gets out on the road again in April for Paris-Roubaix (“I am going to the Hell of the North come what may” – he said in January), cycling fans should get the chance to see him back on the track this week.
After Beijing, when Mark was the only British cyclist to return home having not “medalled”, he said that was over for him and the track. To everyone’s amazement he has been included in the squad that take on the world in Poland:
While I can understand he has a point to prove, personally I wish he’d focus on the road and making damn sure that when the mainstream press does bother itself with cycling we get less of:
“Poor Lancie breaks collarbone” and more of
“SuperCav wins again”.