DISTANCE 55 miles (88.5km)
MAIN CLIMB The Sloc
TOTAL CLIMB 200m
ACHTUNG! Roads around Douglas can be busy
A REVOLUTION is happening in Manx cycling, and Mark Cavendish and Jonny Bellis are in the vanguard that has put the island on the world cycling map. Both have had a remarkable year, with ‘Cav’ notching up 11 wins in his first pro season and Bellis winning bronze at the under-23 World Championship road race.
The Manx Road Club team-mates returned to the Isle of Man at the end of the season for a well-earned rest. But they still had the time to head out on a ride from Cavendish’s home village of Laxey, down to the Sound, the southernmost point of the island.
We meet at the Laxey Wheel, the biggest waterwheel in the world, and Cav is concerned his bike may look a little dirty. His T-Mobile team issue Giant has some specks of mud on it after a ride earlier in the week which took in some rough stuff.
Even though the week had been marked down as a rest, the 22 year old ended up on a charity ride the previous Sunday, clocking up 115 miles. After the season Cav has had you get the impression he just can’t wait for the next one to begin.
Bellis, on the other hand, is glad of the two weeks’ rest he has had, his first extended break from racing and training in two years.
They head south from Laxey on the east coast and west towards Dalby Mountain, with me following in the Isle of Man’s national team car driven by coach Mike Doyle.
It’s a gentle climb to the Round Table and then a descent which eventually brings us to the Sound overlooking the Calf of Man, an uninhabited island just off the south coast.
Over coffee and cakes at the Sound cafe (it’s carrot cake for Cav and apple pie for Bellis) we talk about the season just gone and plans for 2008.
Cavendish says he can’t pick one highlight out of his 11 wins, he’s more interested in talking about victories yet to come. “Next year it would be nice to start off the season well and show that this year wasn’t a fluke,” he says.
“The big focus next year will be the track at the Olympics. I’ll be taking August out from the road and concentrating on preparing for Beijing. But I’m not compromising my road season for it beforehand.”
Cavendish will be getting in some track work this winter and making sure he qualifies for the Games. After that he will be looking for more wins on the road until three or four weeks before the Olympics, when he will begin specific track training.
Bellis has no doubt about his 2007 highlight: the tremendous ride at the under-23 road Worlds where he won bronze. His performance may have surprised some, but the 19 year old had shown good form on the road in Italy earlier in the year, and his consistent high placings in the Tour of Britain showed his potential as a stage racer.
“I knew I was capable of winning a Worlds medal but it was a question of when it was going to happen,” he says. “For it to happen as early as it did is a bit of a bonus, hopefully I can go up another level next year.”
Raring to race
Next year he and his Olympic Academy squad face a heavy road programme, with Bellis’s main aim being to follow Cav into the pro ranks. “We will be doing more racing next year than this year,” says Bellis, who is looking forward to seeing his Manx Road Club team-mate Peter Kennaugh join him in the Olympic Academy set-up.
Spend just a few minutes talking to Cavendish and you are struck by his incredible sense of self-belief. It’s not arrogance or bravado, just an attitude which indicates that he knows where his strengths lie and how to make the most of them. Bellis too becomes increasingly confident in his own ability with every race.
This has been a big year for Bellis. At the start he may have been viewed primarily as a track man, but his performances in recent months have made pro team managers sit up and take notice of his ability as a road racer. “This year I’ve learned a lot about myself and what my capabilities are and what my limits are,” says Bellis.
Bellis is determined to follow Cavendish’s amazing progress on the road — this year Cav became the first Manx rider to start the Tour de France.
As I grab a picture of him and Bellis climbing the hill away from the Sound I can’t help wondering if, in a few years’ time, someone will get a similar snap of them riding side by side in the Tour. The ride ends back at Laxey and Cavendish rides off to prepare for the first of the Revolution track events happening two days later.
Bellis heads home to Douglas for a bit more rest before training begins again.
Both of them will go into 2008 looking to make an even bigger impression on the sport. They are young, gifted and Manx. And the revolution they are leading has only just begun.
* Age 22
* Career highlight — world Madison champion with Rob Hayles in 2005
* Lived in Belgium and Italy during 2007 season, but still considers Isle of Man home
* Favourite food is cheesecake — “I can eat it until it’s coming out my ears”
* Favourite music from DJ Tiesto to Ghosts and Rihanna. Team-mate Servais Knaven is a DJ and he plays ‘jump’ music on the T-Mobile team bus. Jumping is the latest dance craze in Holland and it has the riders bouncing around the bus before races
* Age 19
* Career highlight — bronze in 2007 World Championship
* U23 road race
* Based in Tuscany for most of 2007
* Fave food is jacket potato and sausage with a spicy arrabiata sauce and Parmesan on top
* Favourite music: “Feel good music like trance, God’s Kitchen anthems”.
START at the Laxey Wheel just north of Laxey Village. Head south into the village and onto the A2. Turn right onto the B12 at Fairy Cottage and follow the road until it joins the A21 at the Creg-ny-Baa pub. Turn left (TL) and carry straight onto the A21 until you get to T-junction and turn right (TR) and go past Noble’s Hospital. Carry on to the crossroads and TL and then, after about half a mile TR onto the A1. Carry straight on across the Ballacraine crossroads and TL at the Tynwald Inn.
Then TR onto the A30 until you reach a T-junction and TL onto the A27 going through Glen Maye and Dalby. Climb the Sloc and at the top you will reach the crossroads at the Round Table. TR onto the A36 and onto the A29 until you turn right onto the A31 signposted Cregneash. Carry on to the Sound then retrace the route and carry straight on in Port St Mary onto the A5 and onto the A25 and then A6 back to Douglas. Ride along Douglas Promenade onto the A11 and then the A2 retracing your route back to Laxey Wheel.