I should probably preface this review by saying that I know one of the Cavendish’s ghostwriters, Daniel Friebe. So make of that what you will!
When Mark Cavendish stormed to victory on Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, I was ecstatic. Cavendish is a cyclist who I’ve loved to follow for years. He won his first stage of the Tour de France back in 2008, and then went on to win a total of 30 stages, with his last win in 2016.
When he contracted Epstein-Barr virus, it took a long time to diagnose, and a longer time to get over. It looked very much like his best years were behind him, and few gave much thought to the idea that he could ever compete again at the top level.
There was also the small matter that his 30 Tour wins, was just four off the biggest ever haul of wins, by Eddy Merckx, probably the greatest cyclist of all time.
So when Cavendish managed to get himself picked by his Deceuninck Quick-Step team, at the eleventh hour, when their lead sprinter, the Irish rider Sam Bennett, was still injured ahead of the race, there was the faintest of hopes that perhaps Cav could do something in the race.
That win at Fougères suddenly saw the years being rolled back, as Cavendish was suddenly on the podium after so many years of not winning a race at just about any level. Indeed at the end of 2020, he’d looked to be retiring and it was only a late call-up from Deceuninck Quick-Step team boss Patrick Lefevre that saw him stay in the professional peleton.
That win on stage four was followed by three other wins over the 2021 race, as well as the overall green jersey for the best sprinter in the race. But to get those wins and take home that jersey also meant that he had to get through the tough mountain stages of the race, without missing the time-cut. Considering he’d been such a late replacement at the race, he hadn’t done the full amount of training that a rider would normally undertake ahead of a race on the scale of the Tour.
Except that reading Tour de Force, his new book covering the 2021 season, you can see that Cavendish did indeed do an awful lot of work in the run-up to the race on a “just in case” basis. With a new coach, he was actually posting some remarkably good numbers. But while he’d won a few races earlier in the 2021 season, none of those were on the scale of a race like the Tour de France, and there’s always a concern that “anyone” can win a stage of the Tour of Turkey, but it doesn’t mean so much in the bigger picture of the world’s biggest cycling race (Note: “Anyone” can’t win a stage of Tour of Turkey.)
In interviews, what’s always astonishing about Cavendish when he’s telling you about his decision making process, is his almost photographic memory of the race and the last few hundred metres. He can detail exactly what was happening at what point, even as split second decisions are being made – do I stay on the wheel of my team-mate, or do I jump onto the wheel of one of my competitors?
This book gives you an enormous amount of insight, not just about the last year or so of Cav’s career, but an almost second by second analysis of how he won the races he did win (or didn’t).
Cavendish is also a rider that wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s very honest – perhaps sometimes too much for his own good. But he loves cycling, treasures the history of the sport, and is certainly one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen, let alone cyclists. I’d have certainly placed him on the shortlist of BBC Sports Personality of the Year a couple of weeks ago – since this is the comeback story of all comeback stories.