If you don’t know Mark Cavendish, aka Cav, aka the Manx Missile, allow me to make a brief introduction. One of the greatest sprinters of modern professional cycling, he has won A LOT of races. Cocky and full of confidence, with a sly English (from the Isle of Man) wit and a low-key, self-deprecating sense of humor in post-race interviews, he was pure lightning on the bike. But he got older, moved to different teams, got sick, then depressed, and has been trying to make a comeback for a while. After a three-year drought, he just got three wins in a row at the ripe old age (for pro cyclists) of 35. Everybody loves an underdog, and as a perpetually suffering, aging, and fathlete cyclist, I was thrilled for him at the news. Read on for more on MC putting the hammer down.
Pro bicycle sprinters are a particular breed of insane person. They go through a 100-mile race, struggling to not get disqualified on time, especially those incredibly hard mountain stages. The strongest who can hang in will compete for point for intermediate sprint points. But the “the pure sprinters” work with their teams and their “lead-out trains” to launch them into individual glory for the last at the finish line. Not before bumping shoulders, throwing elbows and turning themselves inside out whilst reaching over 40 miles per hour.
Cavendish has been in his share of crashes, either causing them or on the receiving end. As you might expect from most young men in this discipline, he can come across as a bit arrogant, and he can also be a real sportsman. Instead of celebrating his latest win, he went back to check on his teammates who were in a crash.
In his April 15 article in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay describes Cav this way:
“He was the most fearsome sprinter in all of bike racing, until illness and bad luck nearly drove him from the sport. Now Mark Cavendish is winning again, and cycling fans are thrilled.” -Copyright 2021 Dow Jones Industrial
Pro tip: If you can’t read the whole article behind the WSJ pay wall, log on to your public library account and search for it under Factiva.
The story is as old as sport itself. An upstart youth rises up in the ranks and ultimately becomes a champion. Time passes, stuff — life — happens, she or he ages. The winning slows down, or stops. Rumors are whispered. Retirement looms. And sometimes there’s a second or third act, and the old form returns. Maybe it’s due to rehabilitation. Or coming out of retirement. For however long, that past glory is tasted again, and it tastes gooooood.
Ted King, American former teammate, (whom A Dude met at a podcast at South by Southwest a few years ago) was quoted in the article:
“Cav is such a rare personality in sports, and we really connected… There’s so much more to him than all of his victories, but for any athlete, rough periods can lead to existential crisis. It would have been easy for him to hang it up and go down as an all-time great… The grit it took for him to keep pushing, win or lose, says a lot about who he is.”
This quality of continuing to fight for being the best one can be does say a lot about character. I’m not in any way comparing myself to Cav, being 20 years his senior, a total amateur, non-racer. I only began journey six years ago, but I’m up to 30,879 miles if you include the unverified 3,000 I bicycled in 2015. For a mid-aged fathlete, I think that’s not too shabby. That averages to 13.4 miles per day, or almost 5,000 miles a year. Going on year 7.
Of course, I haven’t had the issues of an elite athlete. Nor do I have the support Cav does: teammates, coaches, doctors, trainers, chefs, massage therapists, and a former model for a wife and four kids. A Dude here struggles at a much lower level. Every day I aim to put in 14.3 (slow) miles to make it 100 miles a week, and I’ve biked every day for over 550 days in a row. Injury, illness, weather, fatigue, work, doubt, and much more have happened or are happening for me, too. So I can relate to the Manx Missile’s struggles just a wee bit.
Obstacles do occur for all humans in some form or fashion. Hopefully we keep fighting to achieve our goals. Still, sometimes the days are dark. Like in my case, in a few short weeks I have to move again. I don’t have a suitable, affordable place yet. Wondering if I’m going to have to spend a ton more money than my current budget just to be housed — or if not, end up with a crazy roommate (which has happened — thanks, Craigslist!). The worst case scenario is I become homeless. All of which is incredibly stressful, time-consuming and worrisome.
So I can relate, if not to the circumstances, to the experience. The last words are ones to live by, from the man himself, Mark Cavendish. We could take a page from his book. Be like Mark. (Not the arrogant part, though.) If you don’t have kids, show this to yourself. Just remember, life is a marathon, not a sprint.
“The one thing I have always said to my kids is—and it’s the biggest thing I can instill in them—is to never give up… I’m so proud that it isn’t just something I can say to them now. It’s something I can show them.”-Ibid.
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