Kimmage interviews : Manx Rocket

Discussion in 'Professional Cycling' started by limerickman, Apr 18, 2010.

  1. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

    Jan 5, 2004
    Likes Received:
    Very very interesting interview by Paul Kimmage with Mark Cavendish

    I’m sitting at a table with the bolshiest man in cycling, waiting for him to explode. The tape is running; the props are in place; any second now he will start spitting headlines ...

    “No-one can match me.” “It gets boring beating the other guys all the time.” “I’m the fastest man in the world.”

    But not today. Something is wrong. Mark Cavendish seems almost subdued.

    Perhaps it’s my fault. Maybe I shouldn’t have shifted the focus from his mind-blowing feats in the Tour de France last year to the trauma in the months that followed: the end of his relationship with his fiancée and childhood sweetheart, Melissa Phillips; his younger brother Andy’s jailing on the Isle of Man; the almost fatal road accident of his close friend Jonny Bellis.

    Maybe it was wrong to place so much emphasis on his troubled start to the season; the surprise he felt at the Ruta Del Sol in February when he was beaten by Oscar Freire; the surprise he felt at the Clasica de Almeria in March when he was passed by Theo Bos. “I was down two sprints already,” he says. “I lost just twice [in 27] last year.”

    This was a Cavendish we had not seen before. We spoke about Melissa and Andy and Jonny and a difficult time in his life. We spoke about how ill he has been and the power he has lost and the demons playing havoc with his mind. We spoke about Fiorella, his beautiful new girlfriend, and their trip to Paraguay in December. And we spoke about desire. Mostly we spoke about desire.

    “Have you ever heard the story of Samson and Delilah?” I ask.

    “Yeah,” he replies. “She makes him cut his hair. Yeah. Do you not think that has gone through my mind? I have thought about that a lot, actually. That’s why I think, ‘Maybe if I could just go back’, but I can’t change things. I can’t turn back the clock. I have to stick with it now and make the most of it.”

    But what would he change? What has Mark Cavendish done to incur the wrath of God?

    DESIRE. How do you explain it? Let’s start with his brother, Andy. Let's start with the guy who was sentenced last Tuesday to six years in Jurby prison for importing and possessing cannabis and cocaine with intent to supply. Let’s turn back the clock to 1995, when eight-year-old Andy ran home from school gushing to his mother about a new cycling league for kids at the National Sports Centre. Home is a four-bedroom semi-detached on the outskirts of Douglas on the Isle of Man. His father, David, works in the IT department of an accountancy firm. His mother, Adele, runs a dancewear and bridal shop. “Can I go?” he begs. “It starts on Tuesday night.” “Why not?” his mother says. “I’d like to go too,” Mark chimes in. And the template of their youth is set.

    Or almost set. A year later, they are at home when Adele sits them down and announces the end of her marriage to David. An hour later, Mark boards a ferry with his bike for an event in Manchester and weeps openly. Later, when he reflects on it, the rawness of his emotion takes him by surprise. He’s on his own now. There is just him and his bike.

    Andy is the more naturally gifted of the Cavendish boys and is soon raising eyebrows with his fluid pedalling style. “One year we went to Liverpool for the Merseyside divisional championships,” Mark says. “I was under-16, he was under-14. I came second and had trained all winter. He hadn’t touched his bike for nine months and won his category. He was good but he always needed someone to encourage him the whole time. I didn’t. I needed people to do the opposite and tell me I was ****. And that is what drove me, to prove them wrong. But Andy just didn’t have that . . .” He struggles to find the word.

    “Desire?” I suggest.


    Cavendish proved a lot of people wrong. He didn’t look like a bike rider; still doesn’t. He had a pudgy face, short, stubby legs and an unremarkable pedalling style. And when they plugged him into the monitors to test his power and physical limits, the results were pretty ordinary. Simon Jones, the head coach at British Cycling, was one of many sceptics. “So, Cav, what do you want out of cycling?” he inquired one day.

    “I want to be a road pro, win stages of the Tour and be a world champion,” Cavendish replies.

    “Well, you’re not hitting the numbers to do that.”

    Cavendish was an enigma. He looked nothing and tested average, but wave a chequered flag at him and the results were extraordinary: 11 wins on his debut as a professional in 2007; more wins (18) than any other professional in 2008; and a truly outstanding victory at Milan-San Remo, one of the sport’s great monuments, in 2009. Rewind the tape, and the thing they could not measure, the thing that makes him great, almost jumps off the screen. Note how much he has to do when the sprint opens. Watch how low he gets on his bike as he pushes for the line. Desire. Nobody wanted it more. Well, maybe that’s not true.

    In his book Boy Racer, published three months after his triumph at San Remo, he pens the following tribute to his fiancée Melissa: “I’m not lying when I say that the real champion, the real talent in our relationship is the girl who is supernaturally selfless — the girl who sacrificed whatever it took, whatever I needed to realise my dream. The real star of this story is Melissa.” But before it had left the printers, he was seeing someone else.

    “What happened?” I ask.

    “I would really rather not talk about it,” he says, “for the dignity of everyone, really. It will be in the paperback edition [published next month]. I say it bluntly.”

    “What do you say?”

    “That I meant everything I said [about Melissa] when I wrote the book. She was my best friend. She’s a great girl. But so much changed in my life.”

    “What changed?”

    “Just everything.”

    “You became famous,” I suggest.

    “But that doesn’t come with just perks, it comes with pressures and . . . I don’t know. We were together since I was 15. People say, ‘You’re young, it’s too early to get married’ but at the time you don’t see it. And I didn’t see it. And I came close. I was four months away from getting married. She’s pushing me to get my suit but I’m thinking, ‘Hang on. I’m not ready to go through with this’. I think it was better to finish things before the marriage.”

    “That must have been difficult.”

    “Incredibly difficult. Because it was an easy life with her. She did everything for me and made my life as a cyclist easier but that’s not a reason to be with someone. That’s not fair on her, not fair on me.”

    THE MONTH is July 2009. Cavendish has arrived in Monaco for the start of his third Tour de France. He wins the opening stage to Brignoles, the second stage to La Grande Motte, the 10th stage to Issoudon, then equals Barry Hoban’s record of eight career stage wins at Saint-Fargeau. The commentators are unanimous in their praise: “Is Mark Cavendish the greatest sprinter of all time?”

    His parents announce that they have booked tickets for Paris — the first time in his professional career that they will travel to see him race. Cavendish is not happy. “Why Paris?” he wonders. “Why now? Why haven’t they come to support me in the mountains when I’m suffering?” But mostly he resents the distraction. He wins the 19th stage to Aubenas and captures his sixth stage of the race with a breathtaking victory on the Champs Elysees.

    The race has ended. He is making his way to the podium surrounded by journalists and officials when a member of his team announces that his mother is here. He’s figured it out. He has also decided that he doesn’t want to see her. He returns to the team hotel and prepares to hit the tiles with his teammates, the people who were with him in the mountains. They celebrate long into the night. At 7am he returns to his room to find a note under the door from his father: “Hi, Mark, just wanted to see you.” But this is not a time for regret. He packs a suitcase for Germany and a week of tiring engagements.

    “Why haven’t your parents played a more central role in your cycling career?” I ask.

    “Maybe I didn’t give them the opportunity,” he replies.

    “Why haven’t you given them the opportunity?”

    “Maybe I didn’t need it. I don’t need much from anyone.”

    THE month is August. At home in Tuscany, he has just returned from training when he notices a missed phone call from Andy: “Mark, I’ve got an interview for a job this afternoon and was just wondering if I could borrow a suit.” The Tour of Missouri is just around the corner. He has flights to arrange and bags to pack, and neglects to return the call. A week later, he is about to board a flight to St Louis when he learns of his brother’s arrest.

    “You went home to see him afterwards?”

    “No, I didn’t see him until [three months later] . . .”


    A 10-second pause ensues. He wipes a tear from his eye. “I don’t know,” he says.

    “You do know,” I suggest.

    “No I don’t, I’m trying to think of the circumstances. I don’t know whether I was angry or guilty or . . . One of my best friends [Bellis] was in hospital for three months in Italy and I didn’t want to leave him. I could have gone home for Andy but in my eyes he had put himself there. As soon as I could, I went home to see him.

    “And when you did see him,” I ask, “did it help?”

    “Yeah, I want a good life for him. Before, I didn’t really care about his life; I thought: ‘I’ve got where I am, he’s got where he is’, but maybe if I had been closer to him, he wouldn’t have . . . I don’t know . . . maybe he would have [taken the suit and] got the job that day. It has made me realise that I don’t spend enough time with my family. I don’t have enough time for them.”

    THE MONTH is December. He has travelled to Paraguay with Fiorella for the New Year and booked an appointment for some cosmetic surgery. It’s his smile. He has teeth like bombed houses. He has been staring at his reflection for months and hates what he sees.

    Cavendish has a tooth removed and a brace fitted, and is ordered not to train for three days. He doesn’t listen. He rides for four hours next day and bleeds. The gum becomes infected. He has it treated and returns to Europe for the team launch in Majorca, but his mouth becomes inflamed.

    “My saliva glands were like grapes,” he says. “My palate was massive. I couldn’t shut my mouth. I couldn’t eat. It was pushing up my tongue and I couldn’t breathe. I was crying like a baby. The team doctor and the dental nurse had to hold me in the chair as the dentist cut [my gum] and got the pus out. I almost passed out with the pain. I was on antibiotics for 10 days and they wiped me out. I had diarrhoea. I couldn’t eat. I was lying in my bed for days and lost so much weight. I couldn’t train for three weeks and lost so much muscle that it knocked me right back. If I could turn back time, I would stick with my teeth [laughs]. I am not normally vain but that was the one thing that got me.”

    Two months have passed since he returned to work this season, and we have seen his victory salute just once — a stage of the Tour of Catalunya. I remind him of Samson and Delilah. “Does that worry you?” I ask. “What if you don’t get back to where you were?”

    “But I will,” he insists. “It might not be this year but I know I can get back, and then no-one will remember this. So it’s just putting up with it, just getting through it. I have real downers, really big downers.”

    “When did you last have a downer?”

    “Recently. I wouldn’t have said that **** last week [he made headlines for an attack on his teammate and fellow sprinter Andre Greipel — ‘me on bad form is still better than him’] if I wasn’t on a downer. But sometimes you are not yourself and it’s easy to get down.”

    “Is it hard being famous?”

    “Of course it’s hard. There are so many ‘yes’ people now, it is so easy to change who you are.”

    “Have you changed?”

    “Yeah, a bit. It’s not harder to stay motivated — I’m still really motivated — but it’s harder when you reach the top. It’s such a big fall now.”

    “What about Team Sky? It makes a lot of sense for a lot of people that you sign with them next year.”

    “I’m always going to have that speculation,” he responds. “Last year there were people on my team saying it was already a done deal. I’m not thinking about it at the moment. My short-term target is to win the green jersey [the points leader’s jersey in the Tour de France] and to win the world championships in the next two years, but long-term, I want to expand my thing. A journalist asked me the other week, ‘Would you not like to win races alone?’ I said, ‘Of course I would, but I’m a paid professional. This is not a f****** hobby! I’m in cycling to succeed!’”

    Almost two hours have passed since he pulled up a chair. He has finally spat out a headline

  2. Maxiton

    Maxiton New Member

    Jan 10, 2010
    Likes Received:
    Fantastic interview. Thanks for posting this. Gives some real depth and drama to the enigma that is Cavendish, pocket rocket. I'm somehow gratified that it isn't all a stroll in the park for him. Makes his wins, past and future, that much more meaningful. Kimmage, meanwhile, is quite the journalist, isn't he?
  3. classic1

    classic1 Well-Known Member

    Jul 29, 2006
    Likes Received:
    That interview shows what a selfish cnut you have to be to succeed, especially if you have a face like a smashed crab and your name is Mark Cavendish.

    Couldn't find time to say hello to mum and dad.... fark me!
  4. Yojimbo_

    Yojimbo_ Well-Known Member

    Apr 17, 2005
    Likes Received:
    That's exactly what I thought too as I read this. He's a ****.
  5. Maxiton

    Maxiton New Member

    Jan 10, 2010
    Likes Received:
    So he has some issues with mum and dad? He wouldn't be the first.
    [ame=""]YouTube - This Be the Verse by Philip Larkin (read by Larkin)[/ame]

    Maybe that's what makes him go fast.
  6. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

    Jan 5, 2004
    Likes Received:
    I reckon to succeed at professional sport, you've got to be a completely self centred bastard.

    Whether that extends to blanking your family or your brother facing a 6 year stretch is another thing.
  7. Eldron

    Eldron New Member

    Jan 24, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I've always thought Cavendish was a completely self absorbed [email protected]

    Hopefully the healthy dose of humble pie he's being forced to swallow right now will turn him into a decent person.

    Probably not.