Mark Cavendish must perform now to fulfil burning desire for Olympic medal
This is a hugely-significant week for Mark Cavendish. For all he has achieved in cycling – and it is a great deal – his dream of winning an Olympic medal remains agonisingly elusive.
Having 26 Tour de France stage wins, three World Championship gold medals and a Commonwealth Games crown is an incredible collection already, but the 30-year-old’s burning Olympic desire is nagging away at him still – and it won’t go away.
In 2008, having clinched World Championship gold partnering Bradley Wiggins in the Madison in Manchester, a medal eluded the pair in the event in Beijing. Cavendish did not take it well.
As the reigning world champions they were the clear favourites for the gold medal but only finished ninth with Wiggins admitting that he struggled to perform at his best after winning both the individual and team pursuits.
"All through the race he kept saying, 'Brad, what's going on?' and I'd be telling him, 'Put me out there,' because I didn't have the legs to attack. But if he attacked I'd have the legs to keep up,” Wiggins said after the Games in 2008.
“I was knackered but he was a bit cocky. Who wouldn't be when you're 22, you've just won four Tour stages and you're riding with a double Olympic champion? He thought we'd piss all over it but the reality was different.”
Britain's Bradley Wiggins (R) and Mark Cavendish react after winning gold in the men's Madison on the fourth day of competition at the track cycling world championships in Manchester in 2008Reuters
In 2012 it was a different, but equally heartbreaking, story.
Despite winning the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Elysee for a record fourth-successive year and becoming the first person to win it in the rainbow jersey, his main goal was again to secure an Olympic medal.
Projected to win Britain’s first gold medal of London 2012, Cavendish’s dream of sprinting to victory on The Mall was dashed as he was swamped in a breakaway group of over 30 riders and he ended up devastated, finishing in 29th place.
" Now, switching back to the track for Rio 2016, Cavendish must seize his opportunity at last – this time, in the omnium."
"If I can’t get a result at the worlds I can’t at the Olympics so I have a lot to focus on," Cavendish said ahead of his latest, but arguably most important, World Championship tilt.
“I just want to win an Olympic medal. If I had won one already I don’t know if I would be here, and I probably wouldn’t be putting so much into it. The medal is the only thing that is missing from me as a bike rider.”
Far more than simply ticking a box on a career-achievement checklist, Cavendish is desperate to finally achieve his dream of Olympic glory – which now presents itself in the shape of the six-event omnium.
Britain's Mark Cavendish takes part in Men's Omnium Points Race 40km final during the UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Hong KongReuters
British Cycling’s technical director Shane Sutton is very clear about what will be expected of Cavendish if he is selected to compete ahead of Ed Clancy, who won bronze in the discipline at London 2012.
" He’s mindful of the fact that there are guys ready to step into his shoes if he doesn’t come up with the goods."
However, this time around it is far from simple for Cavendish: if he is to realise his Olympic dream he will have to juggle his many goals with road team Dimension Data.
“If he gets top three [in London] and we decide to take him [to Rio] he’s got to ride the team pursuit, simple as that,” Sutton said.
“He’s won 26 stages of the Tour, he wants to win the road worlds – they are things he’s already done. But this is one thing that has eluded him. I said: ‘You’ve got to let those other two things happen, but you have to come in and make this happen.’
“He realises that if he wants to compete in the omnium he has to contribute to the team pursuit, that means a serious commitment from him on the boards.”
Commitment to Team GB; pressure to deliver at the World Championships – Cavendish has an awful lot riding on his performances in London this week, but he will be banking on his burning desire getting him through.