LONDON — It’s now or never for British cycling great Mark Cavendish in his goal to at last win an Olympic medal.
In theory everything appears in mint condition for the 31-year-old ‘Manx Missile’ to fill the one hole in his CV as he arrives in Rio fresh from four stage wins in the Tour de France — taking his total to 30, just four shy of Eddie Mercx’s record.
However, Cavendish — who won four sprint stages of the Tour de France with Team Dimension Data, but pulled out early to preserve his strength for the Games — will have to adapt quickly as he is not competing on the road but reverts to the track, something he has not competed at in the Games since 2008.
Cavendish teams up with Wiggins in the six-discipline Omnium in Rio — the duo having won the world title this year in the Madison — and hope for a happier outcome than when they finished ninth in the 2008 Beijing Games.
“Olympic gold is one thing left — I’ve tried it twice and I was in superb form on both days and they eluded me,” said Cavendish, whose other appearance at the Games saw him squeezed out of contention in London.
“I’ve made no secret that my aim is to win an Olympic medal and I’m so pleased to have been given this opportunity.
“I’m proudly patriotic and I love every time I get to pull on the Great Britain jersey and the Olympics is the biggest thing I can do. I wouldn’t have done it unless I thought I could medal in my two events,” added Cavendish, who is also a reserve for the team pursuit.
Cavendish, who won the world road race title in 2011 when the team was captained by one of his idols as a boy David Millar, fell in love with competitive cycling at an early age.
He would often compete in mountain bike races while racing an ordinary BMX. Frustrated at his failure to compete, he pestered his parents for a mountain bike to level the playing field.
“I got one for my 13th birthday. The very next day I went out and beat everyone,” he said in a 2008 interview. Cavendish, though, has had to battle hard to make it as a professional and despite sometimes being accused of arrogance, is described as down-to-earth by those closest to him. Indeed Cavendish showed his sensitivity when he won the opening stage of this year’s Tour de France, which climaxed at Utah Beach, one of the landing sites for the Allied Forces on D-Day in 1944.
After collecting the yellow jersey, Cavendish was part of a moving ceremony to remember the war dead.
“I wanted to be involved with the armed forces in the UK and to finish here at Utah Beach was an incredible opportunity to remember and respect not just D-Day but those who’ve fought and died in all wars for our freedom in the western world,” said Cavendish.
“I wanted to (dedicate) this victory and say thank you to those great men and women and friends back in the UK who served in the armed forces.”