Lee’s Lowdown: Cav The Olympic Assassin!
Britain’s Mark Cavendish has won the Olympic medal he so wanted, although it is not the color of metal he so desired it is still a medal, but at what cost? Lee Rodgers takes a look at the Olympic omnium and the general deportment of Mr. Cavendish. Not so much of a race analysis, but more of a closer inspection of the Manx Missile’s psychology.
There was a moment right after the crash caused by Mark Cavendish that sent the Korean rider Park Sang-Hoon, Glenn O’Shea of Australia and eventual Omnium gold medal winner Elia Viviani smashing into the deck that suggests very strongly that it was a deliberate act, a moment even more telling than the inexplicable swoop off his line and into the Korean’s front wheel that preceded it.
Most of us, me included, have accidentally crashed people. As soon as you feel that contact and the moment you hear that sickening sound of a human body, metal and carbon hitting the deck, especially if you manage to stay upright, a wave of adrenalin mixed with concern for those you’ve caused to crash rushes through your system. If you did not expect the collision, you immediately look around to see what is happening in your wake, or at least attempt to, even if you’re surrounded by other rides and traveling at high speed.
Watching Cavendish just yesterday though, he made no such motion. He simply continued on the line he’d just robbed the Korean of, his head did not flinch, his eyes stayed focused ahead. It was as if absolutely nothing had happened, as though he was completely unaware of the spill behind him that saw Park lying unmoving on the side of the track, being tended to by paramedics who eventually took him by ambulance to intensive care.
Mark Cavendish is what you could call a supremely balanced athlete, as he has two heavy chips squarely set on each shoulder. His time in Rio has been dogged with ongoing rumors of a rift with Sir Bradley Wiggins, with whom he has always had somewhat of a testy, ‘older brother’ sort of relationship. After Cavendish was left out of the gold medal winning pursuit quartet, he accused Wiggins publicly and quite directly of denying him a place in the squad, saying that Wiggins always “wants to be the hero”.
Wiggins denied this, stating that Cavendish simply had not made the grade.
“The reality is we gave Mark the opportunity in Newport [at the Olympic holding camp] to come into the squad and he didn’t deliver. We saw how close it was and we couldn’t afford that, having been together for the best part of 18 months.”
Wiggins also denied a rift, saying that Cavendish had congratulated him after the pursuit win, but yesterday after he won the silver medal in the Omnium, it was clear that he still had Wiggins on his mind. After being made to wait briefly before he was interviewed by the BBC, Cavendish could not help bringing up the disparity he believes exists between him and Wiggins in the eyes of the media.
“You’d be straight on for Brad, wouldn’t you?” he asked rhetorically when they came to speak to him, in his usual graceful manner.
I feel that this sense of being not as respected as Britain’s other Olympic cycling champions (he once said that he was “still somehow the runt of the British cycling litter” after the Beijing Olympics), combined with the realization that he had thrown away the chance to fight for Omnium gold here, after a poor performance in the elimination race, as well as the prospect of seeing his sprint rival Elia Viviani, brought on the rush of blood to the head and brought him and his bike down the track and into the Korean’s wheel.
Intriguingly, both Viviani and the bronze medal winner Lasse Norman Hansen did not criticize Cavendish afterwards.
“It’s not his fault,” said the Italian. “The Korean guy was halfway on his wheel to the right, normally you stay on the wheel. Cav was in the front and changed direction so it’s all normal. It’s a normal crash on the track.”
Hansen was more succinct. “Shit happens,” he opined.
What might have happened if Viviani had been stretchered off as was the Korean? And in Hansen’s comments might there be more of a desire not to be dragged into a Cavendish media scrum than anything else?
Cavendish came second eventually, through a combination of no little guile and skill, but he has still managed to take all the headlines away from Viviani, as has happened before in his career with other riders whose wins have been denied oxygen as a result of suspect riding and vitriolic outbursts from the Manxman.
His refusal immediately after the race to apologize or even acknowledge the crash, aided in part by the refusal of the British media to bring it up, displaying their usual gift for sycophancy, was astounding, further adding to the sense that he knew more about the crash than he was letting on.
The Dutch journalist who did question him on it was threatened with litigation by the British rider, and cursed at by Cavendish as he walked away.
Some will argue that sprinters have to be like this, that it is the nature of the beast, but perhaps they should consider the character and riding styles of André Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Jon Degenkolb, Tom Boonen and Sir Chris Hoy and have a rethink on that.
“Over the course of my years as a professional cyclist I have been accused of many things,” Cavendish once said. “Bowing to convention, though, is not one of them.”
Respecting your fellow riders and the media that are trying to do their job in the correct manner, it would appear, also, is another.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.
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