Number 2: Mark Cavendish
Last year’s position: 1
This was the year that Mark Cavendish did not have it all his own way. And he was still the best sprinter in the world and he still broke new ground.
Was 2010 as successful as that incredible 2009 campaign? In terms of pure results, perhaps not. There was nothing to match that heart-stopping Milan-San Remo victory. He won only five Tour de France stages this year, compared to six last.
Turmoil in his private life, botched dental work and a programme of preparation designed to bring him to the boil later in the year meant that results did not flow. He was pipped by Theo Bos at the Clasica de Almeria in late February, not a result to cause too much concern but a surprise defeat nonetheless. The Italian TV crews followed him backwards as he got dropped in Milan-San Remo. He looked across at the camera and gave a gesture that said: “I’m cooked.”
There was the very public squabble with Andre Greipel, his team-mate and rival. Even when he won a stage of the Tour of Romandie and gave a two-fingered salute, a gesture that prompted HTC-Columbia to pull him out of the race. It was a show of defiance to his critics, those he perceived had written him off, although he later claimed it was a historical reference, to Agincourt and the archers who would wave their two fingers to show they had not been caught and had them chopped off. It was a great line and it made a great story but it’s a wonder he managed to get it out with a straight face. As his friend Bradley Wiggins said in his book: “he came up with some cock-and-bull story about archers at Agincourt”.
A month later at the Tour of Switzerland, Cavendish was in hot water again, blamed for causing a crash that ruled out Cervélo’s Heinrich Haussler.
Even once he got to the Tour, it started badly – another crash, in Brussels, saw him lose ground in the green jersey competition. A day later he was filmed, flinging his bike against the team bus with the petulance of a child whose been called in for an early bedtime. Life under the microscope is not always fun.
And yet he came good. In fact, he did better than that. He won at Montargis and the tears flowed. Genuine tears or joy. Was it relief? Probably not, because even in the moments of difficulty, Cavendish never stopped believing in himself. Four more wins followed, including a jump on the Champs-Elysees that made it look as if he’d been fired out of a canon.
At the Vuelta a Espana, he took the leader’s red jersey after imploring his HTC-Columbia squad to victory in the opening team time trial. He was beaten by Yauheni Hutarovich the following day but he bounced back to win three more stages and the green jersey.
Cavendish became the first rider since Malcolm Elliott in 1989 to win the points competition at one of the big three tours.
His rate of victory slowed a little but still advanced onto 62 since turning professional. He is now head-and-shoulders above the rest in our all-time list of British pro winners.
But if there is something that defined his year it was the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. There, as part of a small Isle of Man team, he proved that all his post-race talk praising his HTC-Columbia team-mates is not hollow or calculated hot air designed to keep them all in his service. It is heart-felt appreciation for people who put themselves into the red to help him.
In the road race, Cavendish was forced to race and he got stuck in. The grimace showed how much he was putting into it. A few days later, he was driving the team car and shouting encouragement for the island’s riders in the time trial. Not everyone would do that.
It’s easy to take Cavendish for granted. In any other season, his achievements would have been enough to make him Britain’s top rider of the year. But it took an astonishing season to pip him.
ALL-TIME LIST OF BRITISH PRO WINNERS
1. Mark Cavendish 62
2. Chris Boardman 41
3. Malcolm Elliott 31
4. David Millar 29
5. Tom Simpson 24
BRITISH GRAND TOUR STAGE WINNERS
1. Mark Cavendish 23 (15 Tour, 5 Giro, 3 Vuelta)
2. Barry Hoban 10 (8 Tour, 2 Vuelta)
3. David Millar 8 (3 Tour, 5 Vuelta)
4. Michael Wright 7 (3 Tour, 4 Vuelta)
5. Robert Millar 5 (3 Tour, 1 Giro, 1 Vuelta)
MAJOR RESULTS 2010
Five stage wins, Tour de France
Three stage wins, Vuelta a Espana
Points competition, Vuelta a Espana
Stage win, Tour of Catalonia
Stage win, Tour of Romandie
Stage win, Tour of California