Who will wear the final maillot jaune of the hundredth Tour de France?
Don’t ask Mark Cavendish. “I couldn’t give a toss,” he jokes to a media gathering in London.
The fastest man on two wheels might also be the most honest. The newly-crowned British road race champion, speaking at the launch of his new logo (stay with us), remains refreshingly off-message.
He begins by joking that one of the many reasons he rides a bike is because he is a poor public speaker, but Cavendish’s utterances are never less than engaging. The occasionally yawning pauses between question and answer seem filled with a weighing of options, but it is his unfailing preference for “plain and unvarnished” that wins every time. Cavendish, it seems, cannot help but say what he feels.
On Sunday, he was in Scotland, securing one of the few remaining prizes to have eluded him. He is hugely proud of adding the national champion’s jersey to his collection, he tells us, and always honoured to represent his country. There is real conviction in Cavendish’s tone, and he stiffens a little, despite the sympathetic phrasing of the question, having only been asked to describe his satisfaction in taking the jersey to the Tour de France.
The occasionally yawning pauses between question and answer seem filled with a weighing of options, but Cavendish’s unfailing preference for “plain and unvarnished” wins every time
Asked to assess the prospect of pulling on the first yellow jersey of this year’s La Grande Boucle (the centennial race will begin with a flat road stage in Corsica) and he is equivocal. There is a chance, he concedes, and he would love to do so, but there will be a number of talented sprinters at the Tour. He confesses to starting Grand Tours slowly, before memories of the Giro prompt a little self-correction.
He hasn’t ridden the Corsica parcours, but team-mates, Gert Steegmans, and world time trial champion, Tony Martin, have done so, and have shared their experiences with him. He has seen film of the course, too.
“The green jersey shapes my entire season,” he says. There is little doubting Cavendish’s connection with the colour: even the soles of his shoes are green. Behind him is suspended one of only 300 of the special edition Specialized Venge bikes with green detailing, the first of which was presented to him at the Giro d’Italia for his hundredth career victory.
A saddle subtly embellished with Cavendish’s new logo is in the back pocket of Specialized’s team liaison, James Booth, delivered that day from China to the brand’s UK headquarters, and too late for him to add to the replica machine he had painstakingly constructed to match the Manx Missile’s racing bike. We take a few snaps of Cav’s perch for, ahem, posterity.
The logo is why we are gathered in a West End bar. It’s an engaging interpretation of his surname, sans vowels, and one that will be applied to each of his signature products, creating a brand to rule them all, whether it be Oakley sunglasses or Specialized bicycles.
Cavendish seems genuinely pleased with the creation, and its designers, from Harrogate’s The Lift Agency, are proud as punch. “We’re cyclists,” they tell RoadCyclingUK, beaming with delight, still seemingly astonished by the coincidence. For a duo who spend much of their free time riding the Yorkshire countryside, occasionally piecing together the parcours of next year’s Grand Départ from the high-level view published by the ASO, Cavendish’s logo must represent the ultimate commission.
They have previously worked with the frame builder, Ricky Feather. These are high times for North Yorkshire’s cycling fraternity and, with the arrival on their doorstep of the world’s biggest cycling race in a little over a year’s time, are about to get higher.
Cavendish is convinced that next year’s national road race championships will be televised
Cavendish marvels at the speed with which the Tour has returned to Great Britain, so soon after the Grand Départ from London in 2007: a testament, he believes, to the popularity of cycling in his home nation and to the talent of his countrymen. He illustrates the last point by drawing the attention of the room to the presence of Hertfordshire’s Andy Fenn, his sole OPQS team-mate in Sunday’s battle for the red, white, and blue stripes.
The national championship course was formed in part of the road race parcours for next year’s Commonwealth Games. Sunday’s crowds were not quite Olympic sized, Cavendish concedes, but more than healthy. He is convinced that next year’s national championships will be televised live.
Asked about the performance of his new team, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, and Cavendish replies that he has made the most successful start to any of his seasons. “I’m in a happy place,” he says, a smile spreading, perhaps involuntarily, across his chops.
With the red jersey of Giro points winner and the aforesaid national champion’s tunic among this season’s additions to his wardrobe, and with realistic prospects of adding a yellow jersey and a second, cherished maillot vert, Cavendish has every reason to be cheerful.