Sitting opposite Mark Cavendish just 48 hours after the final stage of the Giro d’Italia and the world champion’s body bears the hallmarks of a professional cyclist who has just finished a Grand Tour. Tired eyes, thick tan lines on his wrists and biceps, and looking at his leanest after more than 3,500km of racing.
Cavendish is in London to launch Oakley’s Beyond Reason campaign and has been offered little time to relax since completing what he calls as “the toughest of the three Grand Tours” for the first time since 2008.
“I’m pretty tired but I have just finished a Grand Tour,” Cavendish told RoadCyclingUK. “My sensations after a few days aren’t that bad and I’m recovering already which is a good sign.”
The Giro was Cavendish’s first three-week outing since joining Team Sky and he described the experience as “wicked”, with the 27-year-old recording three stage wins, while Rigoberto Uran won the white jersey for best young rider in seventh overall and Sergio Henao finished ninth in his first Grand Tour.
Cavendish had led the red jersey standings since stage 11 but missed out on by a single point after Joaquim Rodriguez assumed control of the classification on the penultimate stage – but defeat by the slimmest of margins has done little to dampen Cavendish’s spirit coming out of the race.
“It would have been a real successful Giro for most teams so I’m really happy,” he said.” It was a great group of guys. We had fun on the bike, we had fun off the bikes, and everyone’s come out of it buzzing.”
Cavendish says he did not start the race with the objective of finishing in Milan, but refused to consider abandoning while in the red jersey “out of respect for the race and out of respect for other riders competing for the jersey”.
“As it happened I got better as the race went on,” he added. “I went in with really good form but the crash on the third day knocked me back for a week. I had a really horrible second week, then I could finally get going again. I’d have breezed through the Giro without that crash, I reckon.”
Winning the red jersey remains on Cavendish’s “bucket list”, however: “I’ll go back and fight for the red jersey, for sure,” he said.
The Giro’s points classification is the hardest for a sprinter to win, with points awarded equally on both sprint and mountain stages.
Only four riders have won the points classification in all three Grand Tours: Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, Laurent Jalabert, Alessandro Petacchi and Eddy Merckx. “He doesn’t count because he’s not man, he’s God,” said Cavendish of the greatest ever cyclist.
Cavendish took his overall Giro win tally to ten during the race, helped in part by a more relaxed route which offered seven sprint stages, rather than the previous year’s two, and Cavendish praised new race director Michele Acquarone.
“If something’s ridiculous, like the Giro has been the last two years, then anything not so ridiculous is going to be a leap forwards,” said Cavendish. “There was still some really, really hard days – some overkill days – but on the whole I enjoyed it, and I think most of the peloton enjoyed it.”
But the Giro is now just another line in Cavendish’s palmares and the Manx Missile turns his attention to July, when he will defend his Tour de France green jersey and bid to earn Great Britain’s first medal of the Olympic Games.
The sprinter will spend this week recovering, with an easy ride scheduled every day, before spending a little time in his homeland, the Isle of Man, then returning to his training base in Quarrata,Italy, where he learnt his trade as a member of British Cycling’s first Academy programme.
Finishing the Giro allowed Cavendish to recover and re-find form in a race environment after his early crash and the former HTC-Highroad rider insists he is “bang on target” ahead of the biggest month of his career. The Tour de France starts on June 30 and runs through to July 22, with the men’s Olympic road race just six days later.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” he said. “Skin folds are exactly what I want them to be and my numbers are exactly where I want them to be.”
Cavendish is pre-installed as the bookies favourite for the Olympic road race, a 250km trek from central London and out to Surrey, before the run-in back to The Mall but nine laps of a Box Hill circuit will test the pure sprinters’ legs.
Classics king Tom Boonen is skipping the Tour to concentrate on the Olympics, while the Czech rider Zdenek Stybar believes the finish will be contested by a “little group of strong riders” after previewing the circuit earlier this week.
But riding through the Giro’s mountain stages have served to refine Cavendish’s climbing prowess ahead of the summer and he believes he has the legs to last the distance.
“It’s a resilience sprinters’ course,” he said of the Olympic road race. “The last climb is too far from the finish to be a factor in any individual winning the race. The climb can certainly make people lose, but I don’t think the climb can make somebody win.”
Box Hill is not a tough climb by professional standards – 2.2km long at a steady five per cent gradient – but it’s rough, laggy surface added something to the challenge. The ascent has recently been resurfaced, however, and Cavendish believes that will work in his favour.
“A heavier road is slower and it’s more draining. It sounds strange but when you can go a faster speed it’s less heavy [on the legs].”
Cavendish won last year’s test event, which took in two laps of Box Hill, but he has since returned to Surrey to complete a full recce to see what numbers he can produce over nine laps and said the results were “promising”.
Cavendish will go into the race with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. The opening ceremony’s ticker tape will have been left to settle for less than 24 hours when the peloton rolls out of London and gold for Cavendish will set the tone for the Games, with victory almost expected, such is his remarkable sprint strike rate.
“I don’t win races now, I lose races, but it’s not frustrating because it means I’m doing something good,” he said. “If the news is me not winning then I’m pretty successful in what I do so I can’t complain.”
Fear of failure is not something which registers in Cavendish’s mindset and the thought of leading Team GB in front of a home crowd fills the Briton with pride, rather than panic.
“It’ll be great to have so much British support,” he said. “It really does spur you on. Even when you’re abroad it spurs you on, but to have that many people nine times up Box Hill will be great.”