Mark Cavendish won eleven times in his first professional season, equalling the record held by his now team mate Alessandro Petacchi. Cavendish has won twenty-five Tour de France stages putting him third on the all-time list and fourth on the all-time list of Grand Tour stage winners with forty-three victories. He was 2011 World road champion, only the second British rider ever to wear the rainbow jersey, add to that the 2009 Milan-Sanremo classic and the points classification in all three of the grand tours: the 2010 Vuelta a España, the 2011 Tour de France, and the 2013 Giro d’Italia. In 2012 he became the first rider to win the final Champs-Élysées stage in the Tour de France on four consecutive occasions and in 2012 was named the Tour de France’s best sprinter of all time by French sports paper L’Equipe.
After a morning of light training and photo sessions it was time for Mark Cavendish to answer the questions from a small group of international journalists. He was in a good mood, but it did seem like he wanted to be somewhere else. Like the good Pro he is; he stuck it out and answered every question put to him:
PEZ: So, how are you feeling Mark?
Mark Cavendish: Very good thank you, very motivated and very confident. The atmosphere in the team has been incredible this winter, already we have had a lot of fun in Oliva and now in Calpe, we have been training well, everyone is excited about the year. Tom’s back in great condition, he’s a big character in the team and spirits are really high before the start of the 2014 season.
PEZ: No physical problems for you this winter?
Mark: I’ve got a sore toe, it stings a bit in the bath sometimes, but apart from that I’m good.
Fairly happy to be here
PEZ: Looks like you have the strongest team in years?
Mark: I’m in the best position here; I’m incredibly lucky that the team have put the financial commitment into signing me and have the confidence to sign a team to support me. They have signed, for me the two best lead-out men in the World; Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw. Along with the guys we had from last year; Gert Steegmans, Matteo Trentin, Tom’s back, there’s Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Nicolas Maes, the young guys. I can sit here and say I’m the luckiest sprinter right now in professional cycling.
PEZ: What does it mean to have Mark Renshaw back with you?
Mark: I’m super excited, now he’s back from being Lars Booms lead out man, it’s like…it makes me incredibly happy. He’s a great guy and a great friend of mine and we had a lot of successful times together. I’m looking forward to a successful year.
PEZ: During the time you and Renshaw were apart, were you still in contact?
Mark: Absolutely, we spoke a lot and he was at my wedding and our kids are about the same age. He’s always been my friend and he says he has just been leading out other people for a little bit.
PEZ: Have you changed your training to get that little bit more in the sprint?
Mark: Not really. Five stages of the Giro, the red jersey, 20 wins last year and the overall in Qatar and winning half the stages. I was sprinting pretty well to be fair, it just happens that I was on antibiotics during the Tour de France. But the guys I’m sprinting against are big strong guys, I’m really the only one left being successful of the fast guys at the moment, everyone is big and strong, the bikes are more aerodynamic, everyone is wearing skin suits now, they are going at higher top speeds. It’s those big strong guys that come out. So I’ve definitely worked on getting stronger, going to the gym for the first time in my life doing weights, I’ve never done that before. Apart from that I’ve just been riding my bike, enjoying riding my bike. I went to the Isle of Man over Christmas and was out with the guys I grew up with and that’s nice, that’s still my fundamental training.
PEZ: Has the team been concentrating on sprint lead-out training?
Mark: No, we did that last year, every team does that every year.
PEZ: Before, you were without doubt the fastest guy, but now there are others, is that a challenge for you?
Mark: What, it wasn’t a challenge before? I’m really happy, I won five stages of the Giro d’Italia last year, I won the red jersey, I won twenty stages, I won every month from January to September, except April when I had a break. I joined a new team and we had the lead-out train dialled in within six/seven months, that’s pretty phenomenal as it usually takes two or three years to get a lead out train. Then to finish it off with the Tour of Britain and the three stages, then Alessandro Petacchi came to the team. I was super happy with my year last year, it was very successful for me and very successful for the team, we won 1 of every 5 stages of the Tour de France, we won 4 stages there, and people tend to forget that. For me Omega Pharma – Quick-Step is super strong and the best place for me and I’m well looking forward to 2014.
Mark Cavendish wins in 2013
PEZ: Have you talked to Alessandro Petacchi about the fact that he is on 48 stage wins and you are on 43?
Mark: No, not at all. I talk more about the fact that he is on 40 years of his life right now.
PEZ: Do you think you will overtake that this year?
Mark: I don’t know, it’s irrelevant as we want to win as much as possible. We’ve got an incredible team here, a real enthusiastic team and some great sponsors behind us so we want to go and be a success throughout the season, just win as much as we can. We want to be a success in the Classics again with Tom, be a success in all those smaller races that Omega Pharma – Quick-Step always was and then obviously the reason I was brought into the team, to win stages in the Grand Tour’s, so throughout the year we want to be successful and win as much as possible.
PEZ: What for you is the most important thing in a lead-out train?
Mark: Smoothness. We’ve got two of the calmest thinkers in sprinting; Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi, we have some of the biggest horsepower’s in the peloton in this team, so with that mix I can sit here as the most confident sprinter in the peloton this year.
PEZ: What about communication in the last 10 kilometres of a stage, do you talk?
Mark: No not really. It’s nice to have someone who knows what he is doing in front of you. Like someone who can think, that really makes your job easier, that for a sprinter the best thing is to have somebody to think for you, the biggest draw of energy is definitely the mental side of things in a sprint and if you can relax it really keeps your heart rate lower and it gives you that bit extra in the last two or three hundred metres.
PEZ: Are you afraid that with Rigoberto Uran joining the team you will have less of lead-out train for the Grand Tours?
Mark: Omega Pharma – Quick-Step and all of Patrick’s (Lefevere, OPQS Team Manager) teams are the most established teams in professional cycling right now, it’s been around for many years and been successful for many years and as Mr. De Cock (Quick-Step owner) showed before in the presentation, we have a big victory every single year and that shows that something has gone right, it’s a clever group of people working here and they always pick the right people, it’s the most established team in the World and it’s the biggest team in the World, it’s a beautiful team for me to be in and I love it here.
I think the right decisions are always made and always have been and that’s why we are so successful and why we will continue to be successful. I rode with Rigoberto in Sky, he’s a great guy and he’s fitting in to the team well, and we will see. He was second in the Giro last year, which shows he can ride the Grand Tours, he showed he can ride well in the Ardennes Classics, which we have have missed out on in the last couple of years, so he is definitely a good guy to have in the team.
PEZ: Do you think there can be a compatible team around you and around Uran for the general?
Mark: I don’t know what’s happening; I’m not a sports director. All I know is that I can go and be in my best condition in July, the guys around me can go and do their best in July and we are in a great position here at Omega Pharma – Quick-Step that we have more than enough people to go to the Tour de France, we have so many combinations of nine riders that can go and be successful in so many stages of the Tour de France. So it’s a luxury position to be in.
PEZ: Did you feel pressure after Tom crashed in April and then struggled throughout the season?
Mark: I don’t think I could get any more pressure than I’ve had in the last seven year of my career, there is no more pressure I can get, I can only have less pressure. It’s a Belgian based team and the Classics are always important, we always excelled in the Classics and the smaller stage races, we were just missing the one thing; which was Grand Tour stage wins, so regardless of what happened elsewhere, that’s the reason I came to the team to win Grand Tour stages and that’s what we did last year.
Tribute to Mark Cavendish
PEZ: What about the change of the course of Milan-Sanremo?
Mark: Is it still called Milan-Sanremo? I heard they are sending Paris-Roubaix down to Grenoble as well, that’s what I heard.
PEZ: Does that mean you will look at Gent-Wevelgem?
Mark: I’m in a Classics specialist team and we have guys who could win that race as training for another race. At the end of the day I’m 29 now, I’m riding for Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, one of the biggest teams in the World and they have invested a lot in me, a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of confidence and a lot of effort and probably a lot of headaches to be fair. I’m here to win Grand Tour stages mainly, to win consistently throughout the year, but to notch up a tally of those Grand Tour stage wins and to put our sponsors in prominence more in those Grand Tours and fundamentally that’s what my job will be.
PEZ: Are we seeing a reforming of the old Highroad team at OPQS?
Mark: Na, I think HTC–Highroad was one of those iconic teams of the last decade, it was the most successful team for many years and won almost 100 races and that was with over half the team of twenty riders, so we had thirty of the best riders in the World. So for sure when that disbanded the big teams were going to snap up as many of those riders as possible and there are lots of those riders at certain teams and it just so happens that there is a group of them here. Obviously we have great talent scouts here at Omega Pharma – Quick-Step and we are going to want the best riders and a lot of those riders were young riders at HTC, its natural that they will end up at the same sort of place anyway.
Mark and Tony, old mates from HTC
PEZ: Was the arrival of Mark Renshaw something that was discussed before he came?
Mark: No, Patrick phoned me about it last year and it didn’t take much to talk about. For sure I would like it. I never made it a secret that I loved to work with Mark and I wanted to do it again and I don’t think he made any secret of wanting to work with me again, I think it was always there, he wanted to try something different.
PEZ: Do you think you could get back on the track for the next Olympics?
Mark: I don’t know, I’d like to see. I still have two more years of a contract here and like I said the team invested a lot in me, so I’ll be successful here. My job is as a professional road cyclist, I grew up racing on the track, I love doing it, but I’m a professional cyclist and I’m not paying my quid to go and race. I earn money for what I do, I’ve got a family to support now, and obviously that comes first. I’d love to go and do the track, but we will see what happens.
PEZ: Have you changed your approach to cycling since you became a father?
Mark: It just means that instead of cycling being the most important thing in my life my daughter is the most important thing in my life and my cycling provides for that. I’ve not really change how I ride or what I do, just really the consequences of my actions as a cyclist now. And that’s it really.
PEZ: Do you get that fear in the pit of your stomach, like other sportsmen get?
Mark: No not really, less than 1% of the time. It’s quite an analytical, unromantic approach to it now, it’s quite black and white, and you just make decisions and do it. I just do it.
PEZ: Was the weather bad in the Isle of Man at Christmas, were you happy to come here to Spain?
Mark: It’s the great thing about the Isle of Man in the winter, well OK it’s like an August day for the Isle of Man down here at the moment. But in the Isle of Man it never goes below zero really because it’s an island. Only in freak years like last year. If it’s cold you just wrap up. It’s nice, one day it was raining and one day it was windy, but not wind and rain together. One day it was actually icy, but you just go out later. The great thing about the Isle of Man is that there you are always guaranteed to have people to train with, no matter the weather, It’s a small Island with a population of 80,000 and one day I counted the riders going out; 60 riders, some in groups and some of them individually, in pretty shit weather. It’s quite phenomenal. No I love it; it’s like going back to my roots as a rider. I’ve got friends there who are not pro cyclists, but are like guys I grew up with, who I’ve been riding against since I was a kid and it’s still exactly the same. It’s the same coffee stops, the same people out, the same signs we race for, it’s real refreshing to be back there and be training.
PEZ: How close was Pete Kennaugh (Sky) to you in the sprint for the Isle of Man Hamper Race?
Mark: It wasn’t even the sprint, it was before that, he had us on the limit to be fair, it was good fun. It’s really nice, just going out and doing that, doing local things, everybody out, I quite enjoyed it, riding out and then racing for 40K and then a big loop, so that’s 140 or 150K’s training in a day
One big happy family
PEZ: Is it harder going to training camps now that you have a family?
Mark: Being away is obviously harder when you’ve got a family, if you can keep it in mind that you are giving them a good life, then….it’s part of the job. At least I can spend a full day with Delilah when I’m at home instead of everyday being out from 9 to 5 or 8 to 7 or whatever.
PEZ: You had a band of brothers feel to the HTC team, is there the same spirit at OPQS?
Mark: Yea really. I’m different in my head, I’m 29 this year as opposed to 23, so obviously I think things differently, but definitely its fun here, it’s like a family everybody has a good time. Yea it’s real nice, it’s nice to be away, and it feels like you’re on camp with a group of people you know.
PEZ: So it would be harder to go to a training camp if it was less fun?
Mark: Yea and you know what would be even better, not having to do this shit!
Mark Cavendish is a funny guy and likes to joke; sometimes people don’t get his sense of humour. He probably doesn’t like doing interviews and who would, being asked the same questions over and over, but he got through it and gave us some good reading material. Although he should probably stick to being the fastest man on two wheels, he looks much happier on a bike.
At home with Mark Cavendish