Mark Cavendish Becomes Britain's Greatest Sprinter in Tour De France

Tom JCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2009

AUBENAS, FRANCE - JULY 24:  Mark Cavendish of Great Britain and team Columbia-HTC celebrates his win during stage 19 of the 2009 Tour de France from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas on July 24, 2009 in Aubenas, France.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Yes, there is immense dismay amongst certain British people when anyone British wins anything! Especially if the winner does not know his station in life and does not grovel to the media with his gratitude and modesty.

Allow me to offer an ironical comment on some of my British fellow countrymen: "Who is this working class lad from the Isle of Man with a bit of a Liverpool accent? How dare he win four stages in the Tour de France at the age of 23 in 2008? An another five at 24 in 2009?

"Good gracious, he actually has the temerity to speak to the media and have an opinion, too. He's not modest! Damn the man. Reminds me of that Daley Thomson character who showed no respect to the Queen when winning two decathlon Olympic gold medals."

I am sure if Mark Cavendish was Italian, French, or from the United states, there would be wall-to-wall roadshow promotions telling us he is the best sprinter of his generation and so on.

But we British so like to lose well. Perhaps we think there is more achievement in shaking hands as the "good losers" than celebrating being the best in the world? Is there a deep malaise in the British character, a split that is based on the old class divisions which never really accepted that the working classes should be able to beat their "superior" public school cousins?

Then all those foreigners started playing those games that we invented and started beating us!

Deep down, does this flow from a yearning for the days when "The sun never set on the (British) Empire"? When we British were so supremely confident of our rule over a third of the planet that we could afford to pretend that we were still jousting like Knights under King Arthur, and a good loser was as good as a winner?

Mark Cavendish is the best sprinter in the Tour de France. He is unbeatable in most circumstances and showed two days ago that he is breaking new boundaries by starting his sprint from 200 metres out and holding off all comers.

I think it is wonderful to have a winner from road cycling from Britain to celebrate about. From all the hype and the millions of words in the Press you'd think that Lance Armstrong had won something this year.  

Cavendish seems to me to be a very likeable sort of bloke, he wears his heart on his sleeve. No stiff upper lip from him. Some British people are uncomfortable with that. So it's easy for the media to lay traps for him, to quote him out of context.

I know it's hard for the media to give up their addiction to Lance Armstrong's PR operation. (I think that a lot of the commentators fall for the Armstrong road show because they are past it, too, and identify with the idea of going back to the past and re-living past glories.)

I also wonder if some of the posters on the cycling sporting discussion boards know anything about the Tour de France? Especially when they state that Cavendish would be nothing without his Columbia team, as if this makes his achievement any the less!

The unpleasant personal attacks on Mark Cavendish that flow from some of their keyboards suggest serious jealousy. Maybe they are old(er) men (whose powers are waning) and who resent the triumph of youth?

The headstrong nature of youth is part of the chemistry of Cavendish. Sprint cycling can be seen a celebration of the fountain of energy that youth and life has bestowed on certain individuals. Take away Cavendish's enthusiasm and joi de vivre and you take away an ingredient of his character.

I don't want to hear, "Oh, he gave a really well crafted interview, isn't he well spoken? And he did so well to come third, too." Forgive my sarcasm. Give me a winner from Great Britain who makes an odd infelicitious remark any day, rather than someone who the PR spin doctors have neutralised. Cavendish is an original.

The "Nay sayers" may have to feel bit more discomfort this afternoon as Le Tour finishes on the Champs Elyssees, as Cavendish has a fair chance of winning the last stage. But if he does not, in the years to come there will be many more Cavendish wins.

Mark Cavendish is a phenomenon in British road sprinting, probably the greatest ever. For their own enjoyment, I advise people to reconcile themselves to the brilliance of Cavendish and to forget their quibbles about his celebratory routines, such as polishing his green sunspecs! 

I remember when Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe and later Steve Cram were breaking middle distance world records every other month, a commentator (I think it was Ron Pickering) said that we should all realise that this was a very special situation, that we would probably never see it again in our lifetimes. How right he was.

So I urge those who have taken against Cavendish for whatever reasons, to try to find a historical perspective and to realise that what they are seeing today will be the stuff of legends in the future. Don't waste the opportunity.

"Grandad, what did you do when Sir Mark raced on the Champs Elysees after five stage wins in the Tour de France in 2009?"

(Grandad tries to forget that he wrote mean and carping contributions to the message boards.)

"Oh, er, nothing, lad, I was walking the dog".

Cavendish has already written his name into the annals of British cycling history and will probably inspire thousands of kids, some of whom will become future champions, whether in the maillot vert or some other colour.

Finally, I judge that Cavendish has behaved very well in giving credit to his team mates after every stage win. There is an example for some allegedly greater competitors to emulate, for one would think that certain winners did it all on their own.

Mario Cippolini "Super Mario", often cited as a past great, always abandoned prior to the first mountain stage or very soon into the Tour. Cavendish is a better champion cyclist already than that.

Allez!, Allez Cav!. Bon courage! Champion de Cinq Etapes 2009. Chapeau Monsieur! Incroyable!