As Mark Cavendish’s bid to pull on a Great Britain jersey at the Rio Olympics gains momentum, there is a chance, according to the GB cycling management, that he and Sir Bradley Wiggins may team up for the madison relay at the world track championships in London in early March. If so, that would recreate the pairing that won the world title in 2008 at Manchester before falling short in Beijing and would be a massive draw for the organisers.
The madison is no longer an Olympic event but Wiggins and Cavendish retain a particular affection for it. Speaking in Manchester last week, Cavendish said he would like to ride all the endurance events at the London world championships. “Of course I would. They are all world championships, all rainbow jerseys, aren’t they? I’d like to ride the madison anywhere having been a two-times world champion,” he said.
The non-Olympic endurance events – points race, scratch, madison – are not normally a priority for GB cycling but at the 2012 world championships in Melbourne, as part of the run-in to the London Games, they decided to target them as well as the Olympic events to put on a show of strength and mark psychological points on the home turf of their key opponents, the Australians.
The ploy proved hugely successful, with Ben Swift winning the scratch, taking a close silver in the points race and adding silver in the madison with Geraint Thomas. Something similar could be likely for London, given the strength in depth in the men’s endurance squad, where Cavendish is one of six riders in contention for a place in the team pursuit and one of three possible starters in the omnium.
Cavendish explodes to the front and all power to his elbows
Cavendish’s complete race programme for the spring has yet to be finalised by Dimension Data – a rebranding of last year’s MTN-Qhubeka squad – although he will race in next weekend’s Track World Cup in Hong Kong for Great Britain before making his debut in his new team’s jersey at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Australia on 31 January.
He will then race the Dubai Tour and the Tour of Qatar before the world track championships from 2-6 March, after which the decision will be made on whether he will race any one-day Classics this spring. Cavendish’s view is that he and his new team should wait until he has some long races under his belt to assess his form after a winter spent training on the track rather than stacking up long miles on the road.
As well as an Olympic medal on the track, another target is a second rainbow jersey of world road champion. The flat course in Doha should suit him as well as the one in Copenhagen in 2011, although there has been a change in the Great Britain team since that memorable day.
“We haven’t had a build-up to this one like we did to Copenhagen,” says the Manxman – the culmination of a two-year campaign stage managed by his former coach Rod Ellingworth – “but we don’t need to. We have some of the strongest bike riders in the world and we can come together and ride well.”
Most of all, Cavendish wants to spend at least one day in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. The maillot jaune is a key goal, being the one leader’s or points jersey in the three major Tours that has eluded him.
The Tour starts with four stages which should suit the sprinters, each carrying time bonuses for the first three, which, in theory, gives a decent window of opportunity before the hilltop finish on the first Wednesday.
However, Cavendish is well aware that the sprint finishes at the Tour are not as straightforward as when he was in his pomp with the HTC-Columbia team between 2008 and 2011. “Those big straight boulevard sprints, one kilometre long, don’t exist any more – there was one last year, at Zeeland – so there are always roundabouts and corners.
“The sprint trains have had to change, you have to be stronger earlier and you have to be ready to fuck [up] another team into a corner, so their sprinter can’t compete. The general classification guys used to sit at the back and roll in together, now they try to flick each other for a few seconds. They actively want to stay at the front, so they can get some seconds if there is a crash. On a big straight run-in you can deal with all that, but on a tight run-in it’s just carnage.”
Even so, the Grande Boucle remains the race that really draws him the most. “It’s still what my season is based around. It’s bigger than cycling. I was talking to one of the lads in the GB team about it – anyone who hasn’t done the Tour, even if they rode all the biggest races in the world, can have no idea just how hard cycling can be. It’s ridiculous how hard that three weeks is on the mind and body, but the rewards, the emotion you feel, the consequences of winning or losing, are just so amplified. It’s a feeling you cannot get from anything else.”