The Manx Missile

  • Mark Cavendish
  • Height 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
  • Weight 69 kg (150 lb)
  • Speed during sprint – upto 48mph, 78Kmph
  • Power during sprint: over 1000 watts [1]
  • Tour de France Stage Wins (22 July 21st, 2012)

With all the excitement of Wiggin’s dominance of the Tour, it’s easy to forget, in the same team, there is also the fastest man on two wheels – the reigning World Champion and the most prolific Tour stage winner of his generation. If Mark Cavendish keeps going, he surely has the capacity to beat Eddy Merckx long standing record for most Tour stages (34).

Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish winning stage in 2009

As Wiggins says, the tour is not won by spectacularly good days. The tour is won by being good for 21 consecutive days and avoiding any bad days. It means to the un-intiated the race for yellow can seem lacking in dramatic sparkle. But, that’s another issue, with Mark Cavendish, it’s another kind of race, there is tremendous excitement and wonderment in seeing the Manx missile in full flow – at speeds of up to 45-48 mph on the flat.

Yesterdays stage 18 to Brive-la-Gaillarde was 222.5km of riveting action. A large breakaway dangling off the front of the peleton. Every team desperate to try gain their last chance of a stage victory. With just a few Kilometres to the go, Team Sky, with Mark Cavendish surviving the previous hills and lurking in a menacing 10-20th place, came to the front. There were two epic turns from Edvald Boasson Hagen and Bradley Wiggins. This took Cavendish to about 500 metres to go. Finally Cavendish had caught up with the remnants of the breakaway.  Despite a lot of work still to do, Cavendish effortlessly skipped his way around the flagging breakaways – Cavendish then powered to the line as if he was on a completely different bike to everyone else. The sheer speed of Cavendish was a marvellous finale as he left the other sprinters and breakaway riders lagging metres and metres behind. It really did look as if Cavendish has some raw turbo power, no-one else had.

Griepal and Sagan had rightly taken many plaudits for their impressive 3 stage victories each, in this years tour. But, with Cavendish in full flow, they looked like Sunday footballers completely outclassed against the might of Brazil (or you might say Team GB outclassed against Brazil). Maybe they were so demoralised at the speed of Cavendish they didn’t even bother to sprint properly. Matt Goss, an excellent sprinter finished second, but he must be silently disappointed to be born in the same era as Cavendish – rather like the great GC contenders who cursed their luck being born during the same time as  Merckx’s era.

Cavendish’s win here, was one of the highlights of the tour de France 2012, such a marvellous stage finished off with supreme speed and power by the fastest man of cycling. I did feel a little sorry for the brave breakaway caught so agonisingly close to the line, but it was Cavendish’s day and he who can say he didn’t deserve it.

Mark Cavendish

Cavendish never disappoints in offering that raw commitment and emotion. He speaks with an almost childlike sincerity which is engaging and honest. At the finish line, he seemed to have tears in his eyes as he spoke with obvious pride and joy at sneaking a Tour de France victory.

Cavendish mentioned in the interview that on the Team bus in the morning, the coach Chris Sutton spoke to the riders- saying it could be an easy day for the team before the important time trial the next day. Cavendish, popped up his hand (rather like a recalictrant school boy asking for more porridge) – please, let me have a sprint. Cavendish just really wanted a sprint finish which has eluded him so often on this tour.  Cavendish then  said, with pride, that other riders – Wiggins, Froome, Boasson Hagen chipped in they would be happy to help Cavendish.

And so it was with 2Km to go the yellow jersey leader did a huge turn on the front to help bring back the stubbornly determined breakaway riders. Then Boasson Hagen took over (Boason Hagen had been in the breakaway himself, but somehow summoned the energy and enthusiasm to dig deep once more) There are not many riders who would inspire the same loyalty and commitment as Cavendish.

Cavendish mentioned that his legs were fresh because ‘he hadn’t done anything in this tour’. Well his concept of doing nothing is probably quite different to other people’s – 3,000KM over tough mountain passes, plus one stage victory,  and, last but not least, acting as super-domestique to Wiggins.

It’s not every World Champion who would end up carrying water bottles from the team car or riding at the front on mountain stages. Being a domestique isn’t the natural place for Cavendish – the Manx missile is  born winner. His desire to win, his confidence to win are truly exceptional.

Cavendish said he enjoyed being part of the Yellow jersey winning team, but at the end of the day he’s a sprinter, and jokingly it was a bit like having Wayne Rooney in defence.


Professional cycling involves a lot of sacrifice. There is the obvious sacrifice to train and race. But, also there is the perhaps much harder sacrifice of personal motives. Team Sky have an embarrassment of riches, several top 10 GC candidates, numerous stage winners and a potential green jersey winner in Cavendish. Cavendish acting as domestique is true sacrifice.

Cavendish was the first to accept sacrifice in his attempt to retain the green jersey in pursuit of Britain’s unique challenge for the yellow jersey. But, yesterday his sacrifice was repaid with that small opportunity he wanted – a bunch sprint.

The ITV commentating team all picked a stage winner. For some reason no one mentioned Cavendish. He had slipped under the radar quietly forgotten after two weeks of relative anonymity, they were eating humble pie by the end of the programme. As Chris Boardman said, ‘let’s try to keep that to ourselves’ ‘and ‘the 1 million viewers’

One thing is for sure, I bet all 6 ITV commentators plump for Mark Cavendish on the final sprint up the Champs Élysées. on Sunday. Who would bet against the fastest man on two wheels?


Video of Manx Missile

Make sure you watch the sprint on the Champs Élysées.s at 0.40

Looking for Mark Cavendish’ power output I only found data for his lead out train. With Markus Berghart reaching over 1000 Watts in final lead out for Cavendish. Cavendish is often sceptical about judging riders by power outputs (On his first test, he was told by British Cycling he didn’t have stats to make it as pro-cyclist). But, he will be putting out 1,000-1200 Watts in final sprint. (PDF)



3 Responses to The Manx Missile

  1. Al-Bo July 24, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    When I do 40mph, I am going downhill and I am generally a little unnerved.

    Mark Cavendish does this on the flat and then he ACCELERATES.

    • tejvan July 24, 2012 at 7:36 am #

      Yes, that’s pretty much Cavendish!

  2. sm July 21, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    A breathtaking finish. Wow. I was up off the sofa, jumping up and down, and slapping my knee like I was willing my horse to sprint for the line. Amazing.

    Definitely highlight of the tour for me so far, closely followed by the three donkeys in yellow, green and polka who all seemed to line up perfectly for the helicopter camera! Also loved Wiggins’ massive smile as he crossed the finish line on stage 17. Shame I’m working and will miss the next two days, but I’ll be there in heart and mind!

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