CW’s top 30 British riders of 2009: No. 1

No.1: Mark Cavendish
Last year’s position: 2nd

Mark Cavendish just keeps raising the bar. In 2009 Cavendish became the first British rider since Tom Simpson to win one of cycling’s five single-day ‘monuments’. That desperate last-gasp lunge at the line to deny Heinrich Haussler victory at the end of Milan-San Remo was a truly astonishing, career-defining and life-changing moment.

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All of a sudden, those who still raised question marks about his endurance or his ability to get over such climbs as the Cipressa and Poggio had to melt away into the shadows. Cavendish, at the age of 24, became one of the giants of the sport that day.

For cycling fans in this country it was a victory that has been dreamed about for decades. With that last powerful push on the pedals he got over the line a fraction of a fraction of a second before Haussler and immediately elevated himself into the big league.

From there, Cavendish carried on winning and treading new ground. He became the first British rider to wear the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia when his Columbia squad won the team time trial on the opening day, then grabbed a trio of stages.

At the Tour de France he was almost unbeatable. Six stage wins to add to last year’s quartet carried him past Barry Hoban’s British record of eight. The green jersey didn’t quite bow to Cavendish’s will, although that had more to do with the intervention of the commissaire in Besancon.

In three years as a professional, Cavendish has won more races than any other British rider. As he notched 23 victories this season, he overtook Chris Boardman’s mark of 41 and now has 51 wins to his name.

Milan-San Remo and nine grand tour stage wins make Cavendish not just the best British rider of 2009, but give him a strong claim to the title of best road rider of the year, full stop.

Mark Cavendish in quotes
“He may have taken the race by less than an inch but it would be very hard to exaggerate the scale of his achievement,” The Guardian’s Richard Williams after Milan-San Remo

“I think they took the green jersey away from him for no reason. I’ve watched it hundreds of times on You Tube and there is no way he should have been disqualified. It wasn’t fair, but it’s over. We forget it,” Columbia directeur sportif Rolf Aldag on the decision to relegate Cavendish at Besancon during the Tour

“I always dreamt it would be a spectacular feeling winning on the Champs-Elysees and it didn’t disappoint me from the moment we heard the crowd roar as we rode in. It was a beautiful feeling, a proud feeling,” Cavendish after winning in Paris

“I’m not disappointed at not winning green. I said before the race I wanted stage wins and to reach Paris. I came close to green, but I got a bit excited. It didn’t work out but how can I be disappointed with six stage wins?” – the green jersey escapes his grasp. For now.

Cavendish’s finest six days of 2009

March 21: Milan-San Remo
Is it exaggerating to say this was the most dramatic sprint of all-time? Heinrich Haussler looked to have timed his jump to perfection, but Cavendish’s desperate lunge, fired by his amazing desire to win, got him over the line.

May 9: Giro d’Italia team time trial, Lido di Venezia
After all the pre-race trash talk between Garmin and Columbia, Cavendish was all smiles when his team, setting off first, watched everyone else fail to beat it. Cavendish became the first British rider to wear the Giro’s pink jersey

July 5: Tour de France stage two, Brignoles
The first of his six Tour stages gave Cavendish the Tour’s green jersey for the first time.

July 15: Tour de France stage 11, Saint-Fargeau
Cavendish’s fourth stage win of the Tour was the eighth of his career, equalling Barry Hoban’s record. It took Cavendish two Tours to win eight stages, Hoban took nine years.

July 24: Tour de France stage 19, Aubenas
If Milan-San Remo dispelled the myth that Cavendish could not climb, this stage blew it out of the water. He held on comfortably as the pace lifted on a second-category climb, then blitzed them in the sprint.

July 26: Tour de France stage 21, Paris
Has the Champs-Elysees ever seen such a dominant sprint? Cavendish’s nearest rival was his team-mate and lead-out man Mark Renshaw. He almost needed binoculars to see third-placed Tyler Farrar.

Milan-San Remo
Six Tour de France stage wins
Three Giro d’Italia stage wins
Two Tour of Qatar stage wins
Two Tour of California stage wins
Tirreno-Adriatico stage win
Two Three Days of De Panne stage wins
Two Tour of Switzerland stage wins
Sparkassen Giro
Tour of Ireland stage win
Two Tour of Missouri stage wins

Mark Cavendish and Fiorella Migliore, BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards 2009

Mark Cavendish wins, Tour de France 2009, stage 21