Eight years after his first Olympic appearance, cyclist Mark Cavendish finally made it to the podium in Rio. Will Jones reports on how the world’s greatest sprinter and former Dubai Tour winner realised his dream of an Olympic medal
It’s been an eventful year for British cyclist Mark Cavendish – but aren’t they all? Arguably the greatest sprinter of all time, ‘Cav’ – as he’s universally know – is never far from the headlines, whether he wins or loses. “Fast sprinter, faster talker”, reads his Twitter bio – and both sides to his character have been on show this year.
Cavendish’s year began with the Dubai Tour, which he won in 2015 after sprinting to victory in two of the four stages. He didn’t manage to successfully defend his title in 2016, losing out to sprint rival Marcel Kittel. But he professed himself happy enough with his form in Dubai – which he carried through to July, and an astonishing four stage wins in the Tour de France.
After Stage 16 of the Tour, Cavendish left France before the traditional finale on the Champs-Élysées in order to prepare for Rio. Some experts expressed doubts about whether he could convert his road form to the very different demands of track racing – but Cavendish has built a career on putting such doubters to rest.
Competing in the omnium, an event which is made up of six different disciplines, Cavendish recorded a solid sixth-place finish in the opening scratch race. He followed that with a staggering 4:16.878 in the individual pursuit, a time that would have been good enough for gold when the discipline last appeared as an Olympic medal event in 2008.
An error in the last-man-standing spectacle of the elimination race, the final event on day one of the competition, meant Cavendish gave up 12 points to Italy’s Elia Viviani – and this margin would ultimately prove crucial. Gold medallist Viviani eventually finished the omnium 13 points ahead of the second-placed Manxman, with Lasse Norman Hansen from Denmark two points further back in the bronze medal position.
“I messed up in the elimination,” admitted Cavendish, but he was magnanimous in defeat after coming away with a silver medal. “I was beaten by the best guy out there. Elia [Viviani] was strongest across all races, so hats off for the win.”
After picking up his medal on Monday evening, Cavendish admitted he didn’t have much time to enjoy it. “I'm racing on Sunday [at the EuroEyes Cyclassics in Hamburg]. I go back home, and it's back to the day job…”
The Dubai Tour takes place on February 1-4 2017