Mark Cavendish can win this Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, according the Manx Missile’s former Great Britain teammate, double Olympic medalist, Rob Hayles.
In a wide ranging interview, Hayles told RoadCyclingUK that Cavendish’s ambition to take a second victory in La Primavera, this time in the colours of world road race champion, was built on solid foundations.
The former national road race champion, who in 2005 won the world madison championship with Cavendish, said the Manxman’s hard work over the winter had generated the early season form needed to make him a realistic contender for Saturday’s 298km epic.
“It’s not pie in the sky. Last year, it was a bit of hoping and ‘fingers crossed’. He wants to perform at San Remo and he’s in a position to be able to do that. It will be wonderful if he can. As long as he can steer clear of accidents and mechanicals, he’ should be in a position where he can win, but there are an awful lot of variables between the start and finish line.”
Hayles said he had spent a lot of time over the winter with Cavendish and had been impressed by the world champion’s dedication to reaching his peak racing weight so early in the season.
“He really has put in the work over the winter. He’s one of those guys who puts on weight on a rest day of the Tour. That’s just how he is. He’s worked really hard. I’ve spent a lot more time with him this year. I’ve lived with him through that. It’s one of the big obstacles he’s overcome this winter. I know he’s had a lot of ‘back slaps’, even in Qatar, with people saying it’s good to see you looking well six weeks into the season.”
He praised Bradley Wiggins’ race-winning performance in last week’s Paris-Nice, and agreed that it was among the Londoner’s most significant victories.
“It’s got to be up there. A lot of people will say he’s peaked too soon, but I believe his programme only involves four races between the start of the season and the Tour. He can afford within reason to peak for those events, especially early on. You have got guys like Evans who have got some catching up to do. He may have planned his season not to peak at places like Tirreno-Adriatico but to build into the Tour. Brad has structured his season to remain pretty much at ‘form’ and be able to relax and recover for each event and be within 10 per cent of his best. I believe it’s just three or four ‘hits’ before the Tour,” said Hayles.
Hayles won two Olympic medals with Wiggins in the 2004 Athens Games and said Cavendish’s transfer to Team Sky had brought out the best in both riders. Wiggins’ Paris-Nice triumph would help him to command the support of the team at the Tour, he said. “There’s a healthy pressure for both of them. I’m sure that’s a factor,” he added.
A double Olympic medalist and world and Commonwealth champion on the track, Hayles said he was impressed by the performance of the Great Britain team at the London round of the UCI Track World Cup at the London velodrome in February.
“It was good timing for them to produce the performances they did. For Jess and Vicky to have gone out and broken the world record was a surprise to them. That’s obviously a good sign for them, and for the velodrome. The organisers were desperate for quick times,” he said.
“One of the biggest problems now for the sport is managing expectation. The media and the public want them to win. They were used to that up to Beijing. After Beijing, there was a big lull. A lot of people thought they had blown it, that they’d peaked to early. Unfortunately, that’s how sport is. You can’t continue that form over a four year period.
“The team knew where they were at. They know the goals they have to achieve. From our point of view, it’s a shock. It’s different for the riders. As an athlete you want to go out and perform at your best every time, especially when you’re in the shop window like bike racing is in the UK. It’s extra pressure on the riders, as well as the pressure they put on themselves. Up until Beijing, we were able to cope with that. There was very little interest apart from the hardcore bike fans.”
He warned that the men’s team pursuit would be a much closer contest in London than it had been in Beijing. He praised the Team GB staff, who he said had returned to ‘windowless offices’ at the Manchester velodrome immediately after the team’s triumph in Beijing to begin preparation for the following round of the World Cup some 10 weeks later.
Hayles finished his road racing career with the Endura Racing squad, serving the team as rider-manager in 2010 before concentrating on riding duties last year under the direction of Julian Winn. He jokingly described his role in the team’s current success to loosening the lid of a jar, praised Winn’s direction of the team and the impressive form of Jon Tiernan-Locke, who took back-to-back victories in the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut Var.
“I’ve worked with Julian Winn and I think he’s great. As a director, he’s really good, and he’s obviously taken on a rider [Tiernan-Locke] who’s got what it takes. He showed signs of it in the Tour of Britain last year, and this year he’s hit the ground running. He must have a good winter to do what he’s doing. I know the Tour of the Mediterranean. It was my first race with Cofidis in 2001 and Basso won the first stage. I know how hard it is.
“It’s not just British riders who have come through the system. It’s good for the sport, and it’s good for Endura. It’s what they need for the level they are trying to compete at. It’s pay back for the team and for Jim [McFarlane] for what he’s put in,” he said.
Since retiring, Hayles has taken on a constant stream of media work and become a consultant to Onix bikes. Last night, he launched a new video for the Near Naked Man initiative of the Male Cancer Awareness Campaign at London’s Look Mum No Hands café, a charity he first encountered in the same café last year.
“I was doing some filming at Look Mum No Hands last November. One of the pieces was with the NNM guys. I had to do a Rollapaluza race against them. All of a sudden these three guys turned up and I thought, ‘’What the heck’s going on?’ I had heard a little bit about them, but to see them literally in the flesh was something else! I liked what they were doing. I thought it was amazing and important. The following week they contacted me just to see if I would like to be involved and I said, ‘let’s do it’.”