David Millar is a ex-pro and yellow jersey wearer at the Tour. He now runs cycling clothing brand CHPT3
Firstly, I’m biased, yet I’m going to try and be balanced, I met Mark Cavendish for the first time in 1999. And what I’ve seen of him and his effect on the sport and society since then is why I think he is the greatest asset any team and cycling as a whole could have at this year’s Tour de France.
He was a teenage cycling fan who came and asked me for a photograph after I’d finished second in the TT National Championship on the Isle of Man.
I met him again in the spring of 2006 in Tuscany, I didn’t know he’d asked me for a photograph seven years earlier. He was part of the GB Academy program, we found ourselves riding alone together on a climb near Montecatini, he was bright red and sweating profusely talking loads and telling me about his recent win in Berlin and how he knew he was the fastest sprinter in the world. I thought he was insane.
A year later he was professional and at the 2007 Tour de France when it started in London we were staying in the same hotel in the capital. One evening I got a knock on my door and there was Mark standing there with a wrapped present. It was the framed picture of me and him back in 1999, he said how nice it was I’d done that when he knew I was disappointed. This says more about Mark Cavendish than me – he remembers everything.
Sidenote, two days later on the first road stage he crashed. He was on my wheel as I was squeezing up the left hand side to position myself to score the final points on the last climb to secure the Maillot a Pois, I wasn’t looking after him, I heard him go down, I’ve regretted that ever since.
Over the years I’ve got to witness him race closer and more often than many people, none of us had seen anything like it, even when he was starting out he changed the shape of races. If he was dropped everybody joined forces to eradicate him, it was go-time; for many years nobody could beat him when he was in sight of the finish line, the best lead out in the sport was built around him, yet when that crumbled, as it often did, he’d still win.
Mark Cavendish scared everybody, he did things nobody had ever done before.
Being on a team with Mark Cavendish is like nothing else, I noticed it early on, he was like the pied piper on and off the bike. He rallied people, a natural born talisman. He’d also get angry, racing is life to him, everything is personal because it all means so much to him – I’d get messages and calls from him when he didn’t know whether he was right or wrong on how he’d behaved, ultimately he always figures out what is right and wrong on his own. I’ve always been impressed by his ability to rationalise every situation.
Most people see Mark after the finish line, he’s almost always an emotional milkshake – that’s in sharp contrast to him in the race. I’ve never seen anyone as clinical as him when everyone else loses their heads, I could give so many anecdotes as examples but I’ll give just one. The 2011 Copenhagen World Championships was one of the few times we got to be team-mates. We controlled the race the whole day, only to be overwhelmed in the final 600m. Nobody else could have saved that situation, Mark did – go and watch it back and see how he pulls a rabbit out the hat in the final 300m.
So, why am I hugely disappointed about Mark Cavendish not being selected for the 2022 Tour de France? It's because he deserves to be there, and if he was given that chance, he would win. The message this sends is so important, because he was supposed to be finished two years ago. I had written him off, and I hate myself for that, because I’d always said previously that nobody should ever write Mark off. Yet I wrote him off.
He does things people tell him are impossible. I thought it was impossible he could come back, and I was basing that off precedent because nobody had stopped the descending spiral that all pro cyclists find themselves in at the end. Yet he did. Not only that, he came back and put himself back on the trajectory to beat an impossible record. He won four stages at last year’s Tour de France. He is a mad genius.
Now, here’s the conundrum, Fabio Jakobsen deserves his place at this year’s Tour de France, and that is the reason Mark is not selected, because on paper he is the better sprinter this year. Also he has made a comeback that is as impressive, if not more, than Mark’s. What Fabio Jakobsen went through is unimaginable for almost all of us, he nearly died in a crash two years ago – Patrick Lefevere and Quick-Step have stood by him and believed in him unwaveringly, that doesn’t often happen in any professional sport, especially cycling. He deserves his place, and his team merit our respect. It’s very special.
Yet, Mark is more than one story, he represents something bigger. He loves what he does more than nearly anybody reading this can ever appreciate, including me.
For Mark Cavendish to break the record means more than one person getting an addition to their Wikipedia page and a Knighthood, he has introduced so many people to cycling, he’s bridged generations and he’s shown us what’s possible.
To this day he will say he is short and fat and not an athlete, that’s not true, he’s one of the greatest athlete’s I’ve ever seen. He has spent his whole career explaining to people why he can’t win the Tour de France overall, and patiently explaining what he does.
We’re very privileged to have him as our National Champion and the Tour de France deserves to have him too.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1