Not even 10 years old when Cavendish won his first stage, Mark Donovan is in between dreams at the Tour de France

The 22-year-old Brit is the third-youngest rider in this year's Tour

Mark Donovan
(Image credit: Getty)

“Hopefully I’m not much like him,” Mark Donovan says of his Inbetweeners namesake – the archetypal school bully who has his wings clipped after finding the protagonist Will spooning his ex-girlfriend upstairs at a house party – who is also probably the most well-known Mark Donovan in the UK.

That could soon change in the coming years, as DSM’s Mark Donovan, one of two young Brits making their Tour de France debut, has big dreams. But first, a run-down of who this new Mark Donovan is.

Hailing from Cumbria, on the bike he’s a bit of a climber slash all-rounder, but not a sprinter, he wants to points out. The bigger climbs are “where I’ve always done alright”. In the winter he skis, something his whole family enjoy. 

He currently lives in Girona with fellow Cumbrian James Knox, who rides for Deceuninck – Quick-Step, and this year they’ve started playing cricket with a bunch of other Brits, Aussies and Kiwis, not all of them cyclists, some physios and other people in the cycling community, or just others who live locally.

“But apart from that, not much really, pretty lazy,” Donovan tells Cycling Weekly, which is always fun to hear from the mouth of a WorldTour pro.

Chatting before the start of his debut Tour, Donovan was hoping to show his face in the breakaway and build on his debut Grand Tour, last year's Vuelta a España, where he managed fourth on stage 11 after making it into the day's move up the road.

"Last year went well, especially towards the end," Donovan says. "I felt better and better so I think that's one thing, just not getting too stressed early on, getting through the first week, and then hopefully, the legs will come around and then I can really try.

"In those moves, you've just got to keep battling away and you'll eventually come close. And then if you've got the legs, you've got the legs. "

 Donovan tried not to look at the road book too much and get carried away, but fancied the stage that ventured into Andorra as one to try get up the road on, familiar with the tarmac of the region where he's lived for the past year.

And that's what he did, getting into the break on stage 15, eventually finishing 14th as Sepp Kuss stormed to the stage victory for Jumbo-Visma.

"Nice little day in the break yesterday on familiar roads," Donovan posted on Instagram after the stage. "Didn’t have the legs on the last climb to follow the best guys but good to be in the fight. Unfortunate timing for a puncture halfway up the last climb. Looking forward to the last rest day now, and then getting stuck into the final week."

Team DSM at the team presentation of the 2021 Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty)

Donovan has made his Tour debut before Knox has - although the Deceuninck - Quick-Step rider has multiple Grand Tour appearances already under his belt. Has this resulted in bragging rights at home?

"We have a laugh about it. He's a few years older than me but I've got the chance to do the Tour first and we're from the same area so it was kind of funny, but obviously he's done a lot of other stuff. There's not too much rivalry we actually haven't raced together much," Donovan says. Knox, however, received a late call-up to be the first reserve on GB's Tokyo Olympics team, so you would assume balance has been restored in casa Cumbria.

So, a bit more about Mark Donovan. Who was his cycling idol growing up?

"It's a tough one," he starts. "I never really watched that much cycling growing up but the only rider I really remember and kind of looked up to a bit was Andy Schleck. 

"A bit of a different one but he was always just attacking, good on the climbs, and a similar sort of rider to me, I guess, in terms of build. We'll see, I mean, it'd be nice to be as good as that. But you never know."

So how good does he want to be?

"I mean I'd love to win a Grand Tour, that'd be pretty crazy," it's so great when cyclists reveal what they really dream of. "The World Champs would be an amazing one. I'd love to get to wear the World Champs stripes. Obviously that might be a long way away, but you never know."

The things we do currently know is that Donovan was the third-youngest rider on the start list in Brest.

"That was pretty cool," Donovan says of having made his Tour debut at an early age. "Actually I thought I was going to be the youngest guy and then I saw Fred [Wright] was coming and he's a couple months younger than me.

"It's pretty cool to be honest, especially to be there with another British rider,  two of the three youngest riders are British. I've raced against Fred growing up so it's pretty cool to be here. It's kind of an honour to be here with the best riders when I'm still pretty young."

So young that he wasn't even 10 years old when Mark Cavendish won his first Tour stage in 2008.

 "Yeah, that's pretty crazy."

Donovan looks to be heading towards a very respectable top-50 GC finish on his debut loop around France. This may be the first we've heard of the Cumbrian, but it seems like it certainly won't be the last.

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.