Cavendish: ‘If I don’t win, I lose’

Brian Holm has worked with the former world champion since he was a rookie and is convinced he'll top Merckx in the grand tours

Photo: Graham Watson

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TREVISO, Italy (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) on Thursday afternoon relished not the fact that his victory in stage 12 at the Giro d’Italia marked the 100th of his career, but how he did it.

Cavendish knows that he cannot win at the clip that delivered him 30 grand tour stages between 2008 and 2011 without the support of a full team, and this was the main reason he left Sky after one unhappy season to join the Belgian Omega Pharma outfit for 2013. Despite a few public hiccups in his leadout earlier in the season, things are kicking into gear for Cavendish. So far through this Giro, he’s won all three sprints he’s contested.

Claiming his 100th career victory made Thursday’s win all the sweeter.

“Normally it wouldn’t mean anything, but it’s quite special,” Cavendish said of his century milestone. “I’m happy I could do it at the Giro. And I’m happy the way we did it. The guys took control of what was a very hard stage from beginning to end. They rode their skins out.”

A five-man breakaway didn’t make it easy for Cavendish, holding out until the final 500 meters. The Manxman came off the wheel of teammate Gert Steegmans to finish off Omega Pharma’s work in a nasty stage marred by heavy rain, cool temperatures, and gusting winds.

Cavendish, who is expected to ride a special-edition Specialized bike in Friday’s stage, was effusive in his praise for his Omega Pharma setup men.

“We’ve come under a lot of criticism of our sprint. We came here with the intention of every sprint and we’ve done quite exceptionally,” he said. “The team rode with their heads and their hearts. That’s what I asked for. I am more proud of how we did it rather than how many wins.”

Cavendish feels pressure to win

Omega Pharma controlled the stage through horrid conditions from start to finish.

When the Belgians upped the tempo after the day’s final climb, with 25 kilometers to go, former Cavendish teammate Bradley Wiggins (Sky) was popped off the back and lost more than three minutes to forfeit any hopes of winning the Giro.

“All I am worried about is my squad. Other teams are other teams, whether the French or English, it doesn’t matter,” Cavendish said of Wiggins. “I make my own race.”

Cavendish has come a long way since his professional debut in 2007 with the former T-Mobile outfit. Always brash and always fast, he has emerged as the best sprinter of his generation.

The “Manx Missile” is the sprinter of reference in any race he starts. But with his success comes a heavy burden to deliver wins.

“When I first started, to win was a bonus. Now it’s anything but a win is a loss,” he said. “I no longer ‘win’ races, I ‘lose’ races. That shows that you’re doing something right. I would rather be in that position than to be in a position of being less successful.”

Drawing closer to Merckx

With his third win so far in the 2013 Giro, Cavendish is moving up the victory charts for most career grand tour stage wins.

At just 27 years old, he boasts 39, tying him for sixth on the all-time list with Learca Guerra and Delio Rodríguez. He’s closing in on Bernard Hinault (42), Alfredo Binda (43), and Alessandro Petacchi (48). Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini is second on the all-time list with 57, while Eddy Merckx, the standard-bearer for so many cycling records, holds the magical number of 64 wins.

Omega Pharma director Brian Holm has worked with Cavendish since his T-Mobile days and believes he is capable of besting Merckx’s mark.

“At the end of the day, it will be easy enough to calculate who has the most victories in the grand tours. I believe that will be Cav,” Holm told VeloNews. “If you don’t count the shitty criteriums or small races. If you count only the big races, and if he stays healthy, it will be him. I believe he can do it.”

While Merckx won across all terrain, with many of his grand tour victories coming in the mountains, Cavendish’s successes are limited to the mass gallops. He is the only active rider with any hope of coming close to the Belgian. Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) is the second closest active rider, with 14 grand tour stage wins.

Holm saw spark in Cav very early

Holm, the veteran sport director on the Belgian outfit, has been working closely with Cavendish since he joined T-Mobile as stagiaire in 2006.

Straight away, Holm could tell Cavendish was different. On Thursday, he told a funny anecdote of how Cavendish blew off a scheduled appointment with a famous, high-priced German sports psychologist that team owner Bob Stapleton had bankrolled to attend the team’s training camp on Mallorca.

“When [Cavendish] was a little fat boy, [the psychologist] came to us at T-Mobile. Each rider had a scheduled 30-minute appointment with him. The only one out of 30 riders who didn’t show up with Cav. Bob goes ballistic because that guy cost the team a fortune. He told me to go find Cav and find out why he blew off his appointment,” Holm recounted to VeloNews. “I found him in his room, and I said, ‘What’s up? Why didn’t you go like you are supposed to?’ He said, ‘I don’t need a psychologist. I promise you I will win my races without some psychologist.’ I said, ‘oh you think so?’ I went back to Bob, and said we need riders like that, with meat in their heads. Bob Stapleton was pissed off, but he said, ‘Ok, let’s see what he does.'”

The team soon saw what Cavendish would do. He won 11 times in 2007, including stages at the Volta a Catalunya and Quatre Jours de Dunkerque (Four Days of Dunkirk), tying Petacchi’s rookie mark. From there, he took his show through the sport’s biggest races, winning almost at will in the Giro and Tour de France and taking the world title in 2011.

When he wanted to leave Sky last year, Holm was a big reason Cavendish looked to Omega Pharma. It’s only fitting that on the day he earned his centenary win, the “little fat boy’s” team car was piloted by the director that backed him before he’d won a race.

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