The best of Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish won his fifth stage at this year’s Giro yesterday and so took the maglia rossio passione (great name). He has now won the points classification in all three Grand Tours and it has been far from easy.

Many feel that Cav is at his best in a sprint finish, but that doesn’t actually give you the measure of the man. He’s not at his best when he’s at his best. He’s at his best when he’s at his worst.

What?

Last year, Cavendish lost the Giro points competition by a single point. His efforts to ensure that didn’t happen again this year have been beyond admirable. He hasn’t just settled for competing on the few flat stages there have been. He’s also tried to broaden his horizons, which has meant some positively hellish climbing.

This is when he’s at his best; struggling up a 10 per cent slope and seeing riders pass him on both sides, but battling away anyway. At times he has clung to the hope that he might be able to rejoin the main group after an incline, even when that hope has seemed slimmer than the very cyclists who have been forcing the pace.

Putting the super into a human

At these moments, Cavendish has been unmistakeably human and his superhuman feats become so much more admirable when you are confronted with that fact. He is not a natural climber by any stretch of the imagination. His climbing is strangely beautiful precisely because it is so impossibly hideous.

Cav climbs like you or I do, writhing around and struggling to stay on top of the gear. Pedalling is not smooth. Instead, the force is created by sheer willpower and delivered via inefficient, pained contortions. He maintains this even as other riders drift past him almost effortlessly and when it is over, he frequently has nothing to show for it.

Sometimes it’s possible to earn more than a win

On those climbs, Cav earns respect. Whether he’s fighting a losing battle with gravity for a three per cent chance that he’ll be there for a sprint finish or in order to beat the time cut on a mountain stage, this is when he puts in the hard yards.

The sprinting’s the easy bit. Clearly.