At 34 and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, road sprinter Mark Cavendish is well on his way to becoming the cycling world’s G.O.A.T. We find out what it takes to get McLaren to name a colour for him and how his association with Richard Mille developed
You’ve shown incredible resilience coming back from crashes and Epstein-Barr and the mental effects that being out of competition must bring. What are the most important things when it comes to recovery, both physical and mental?
The hardest thing has been dealing with the pressure from people that are ignorant to those physical and mental effects. Whether they be media, rivals, or others involved in the sport. At the end of the day, I’m human, not a machine. If a watch has a mechanical fault or loses a second, it can be fixed and immediately works like nothing had happened. A human body obviously needs time to get over the illness or injury, and time for rehabilitation. Add to that the fact that top level sport is all about performing at the absolute peak of your capacity — a capacity level that will have taken a number of years to build up in order to even reach that point in the first place — it therefore means that coming back from zero, of course, can take a while.
I’m just incredibly lucky I’ve got a small amount of wonderful people around me: family, friends, sponsors, that have shown support and faith and reminded me of what I can achieve when I’m at my best.
Did your impressive result at the London Six Day at the end of 2019 help set you up for 2020?
Definitely riding the velodrome has helped me during my career. Although road and track cycling both fundamentally use two wheels, a chain and handlebars, they’re actually quite different sports. You could say one is like IndyCar racing and the other like Dakar Rally.
The high-intensity efforts on the track for sure help for my sprint speed, as does using different muscle groups from riding a single fixed gear. And riding in a tight bunch with no brakes helps me stay sharp mentally.
At 34 and four Tour de France wins away from matching Eddy Merckx’s record, what gives you the motivation every morning to wake up and train like a badass and focus on winning?
Simply, winning. Since I was a kid I had to try and win at everything, not just cycling. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always win, but I always strived for it. It wasn’t good enough for me to be the best I could be; I had to be the best of everyone. As I’ve gotten older, the purpose of winning has changed, but the desire to win hasn’t. When I was young, it was always for me and how far I could go. Now it’s for my family, my children. How proud I can make them and how I can fundamentally give them the best life I can manage.
The world has changed with older athletes like Nadal and Federer still at their peaks as they approach their 40s and Floyd Mayweather is still fighting at 42. What is giving more mature athletes the ability to perform at their best?
I think experience definitely helps you see things with a more measured perspective. Science and innovation have changed a lot of sports, particularly cycling, over the last 10 to 15 years, but maturity for sure helps with working out how to adapt to those changes, even if the actual adaptation can be a little bit more difficult.
Two of your best friends and lead-out men, Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel, have recently retired. Was it hard to see them go? How do you forge similar relationships with new teammates?
Oof. I joke now that I know more team personnel and race organisers than riders in the peloton! Everyone I’ve shared my career with has come to the end. But that’s professional sport. The proudest thing is that I have made lifelong friends, not just ridden with work colleagues. For me, I think teams always work better if there’s a genuine relationship between the people, not just out performing a job.
McLaren collaborated on a Venge for you, but this time [the company] is applying expertise in performance metrics and telemetry. What do you think the critical advantage will be?
What McLaren does best is think outside the box. Even though there’ve been significant technological advancements in recent years, aspects of cycling are still quite archaic compared to, say, Formula 1. McLaren has some of the most incredible, interesting minds you’ll ever meet; people who ask “why?” Or “but what if we did it like this?”. Not just on trivial things, but on things that you’d just accept as being “as they are”.
McLaren is a legend in British racing. How pleased are you to partner with them and what do you feel are the synergies?
Across all of the entities of McLaren Group, one word stays fundamental: Racing. McLaren was born from racing, and they’ve kept that philosophy. Don’t stop striving to be the best. And as I said earlier, not the best you can be, but the best of everyone. Keep moving forward, don’t rest and admire what you’ve achieved, because someone will overtake you while you’re looking back admiring.
It’s an absolute dream. To think I grew up watching Senna, Coulthard, Häkkinen, and now I’m competing under the same name.
How cool was it that McLaren created a colour specifically for you called Cavendish Green?
Yeah, I have an MSO MP4-12C with a green fleck in the paint. I love it. It was McLaren Automotive’s first high-quantity-production car model. I remember on a holiday in London 25 years ago, seeing the [McLaren] F1 for the first time; one of the most significant road cars of all time. But I’d have never imagined owning a McLaren. So my 12C has as much sentimental value as it does joy of driving it.
Any secrets to the way your new bike is set up? We notice you haven’t followed the small chain-ring trend…
I’ve gone longer with the bike than the last few years. That’s all I’m saying!! Sorry!
You’ve had a long and amazing history with Rod Ellingworth, who was with you when you won the world championship. What strength does your relationship bring to Bahrain-McLaren?
Rod is a grafter. He runs the team, but will be the first person with his sleeves rolled up, moving tables in a dinner hall, for instance.
He has this unique ability to tap into how to say the same thing to different people in a way that they’d take it constructively, whether it be positive or negative.
You always wear your Richard Mille RM 011 on the wrist when racing; it must have taken its share of shocks and abuse. How has it performed under all this stress?
Mate, it’s had some savage hard encounters with the tarmac, that’s for sure!! But thankfully the only stress I ever need to have, is getting the strap dirty from racing in terrible weather, so having to clean it after!
If given the opportunity to collaborate on a watch with Richard, what would be the most important criteria? Lightweight, comfort, shock resistance, aerodynamics or just that it be cool as hell? Possibly Cavendish Green quartz TPT for the sprinter’s jersey?
Shit, you’ve got me there! Hmmm. Well, he’s covered all the performance points above already… Haha.
Describe your relationship with Richard Mille the man?
I don’t think there’s anyone that’s met Richard that doesn’t say how warm, open and personable he is. He’ll message just to ask how you are. He’s all heart. The company is like one big family. And that’s radiated from the top. It’s such a pleasure to say I have genuine friends at the company. Not just Richard himself.
Despite all your success you’re one of the nicest, most approachable and down-to-earth people we know. What’s the secret for being so cool?
Aww, Wei, you’ve made me blush! Thank you, mate. That means a lot. I just think it’s important in life to be open and have integrity. Be yourself. People won’t like it sometimes, but if they don’t appreciate or respect it, then it’s probably not worth worrying about what opinion they have of you anyway. Oh and read Revolution magazine too! Haha.