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A is for Age. He’s 36. Most sprinters are in carpet slippers by this stage. It’s also for Academy (Great Britain) which is where he came to prominence back in the dark days when Lance Armstrong won the Tour every year, when jerseys were flappy and before disc brakes were seen on road bikes. Also for Alaphilippe, Julien, who isn’t above putting in a big turn at the front to help his Manx teammate win.
B is for Bank. Cav worked in one on the Isle of Man in his early amateur days saving money to go and race in Belgium. It gave rise to my favourite Cav quote, of his coach Rod (see E) Ellingworth: “He turned me from a fat banker into a world champion.” Also for Ballroom Dancing, which he did way, way back in the day. Also for Bennett, Sam, DQS first choice sprinter for the Tour, sidelined with Knee. Therefore probably also for Bloody Hell.
C is for Châteauroux, obviously. Also for Copenhagen, where he won the Worlds. Also for Champs Elysées. Will Cav get there in 2021? Finally: Comeback.
D is for Deceuninck–Quick-Step. The best lead-out train in the world, which has led a bevy of top sprinters to Tour success. Also for Declerq, Tim, who puts in the hard yards at the front of the bunch for more kilometers than any of us care to count.
E is for Ellingworth. Cav’s first coach, a definitive influence back in the day. Also Epstein Barr, the virus that laid Cav low in 2017-18.
F is for Ferry. Cav spent a lot of time on it traveling from the island to the mainland as an amateur, which he reckoned was pretty character-building.
G is for Green. Can he hold it to Paris and win it for a second time. Also for Gruppetto. That’s where he will be until Tuesday next week, when it’s the next (possible) sprint stage. Also for Generations of sprinters: Cav has proven faster than several over the years. And Greipel, Andre: a rare contemporary from the early days who is still racing.
H is for Holm, Brian, another definitive influence: they have been working together since Cav’s earliest years as a pro, and when he won the Worlds in 2011, Holm was the man Cav wanted in the team car with Rod Ellingworth. Also for HTC-Colombia, where Cav won the bulk of his Tour stages.
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I is for Island. The Isle of Man. You can take Cav out of it, but you can’t take it out of Cav.
K is for Knee. Sam Bennett’s. Evidence if it were needed that one man’s bad fortune is another’s windfall. Or that one racer’s patellar pain is another’s pumping victory salute.
L is for Leadout men. Mark Renshaw in the HTC years. Michael Mørkøv now. Sir Bradley Wiggins famously at Team Sky, up the Champs Elysées, yellow leading out rainbow jersey. Bernie Eisel, with whom he spent 470 race days (thanks procyclingstats.com for that one) and now Julian Alaphilippe. It’s also for Luck. You make your own.
M is for… He who shall not be named. Also Martin, Tony, a teammate back in 2008.
N is for numbers. He’s won 32 stages in the Tour. He’s won seven times this year. He’s won more grand tour stages than anyone except Merckx (sssshhh don’t say the name) and Mario Cipollini.
O is for Olympics, a bit of a bugbear because in 2008 he quit the Tour early to race in Beijing and it went wrong and in 2012 the London road race didn’t work out. Silver in the omnium in 2016 in Rio filled the gap. Also Opposition: this year, Bouhanni, Philipsen, Merlier, Bol, Sagan.
P is for Patrick Lefevere, the DQS manager who hired Cav back in 2015, and then again, in extremis, this year. Also for Peta Todd, Cav’s other half.
R is for Romantic. In an attempt to play down the idea of winning in Châteauroux, Cav dismissed the notion as “romantic.” He was right not to hype up his chances, but how else can you describe the feat of winning three Tour stages in the same town in 13 years, with one of those wins your first victory on Tour? That’s pretty damn romantic in my book.
R is also for Record and Retirement but we don’t mention either of those.
S is for San Remo: 2009. Also for Sprint Stages. There are a potential eight in this year’s Tour, of which we have had three.
T is for T-Mobile. Cav turned pro for them in 2007 and rode his first Tour in their iconic pink jersey, which got a little ripped at times. Other Teams: High Road (2008), Columbia-HTC (2009-2011), Team Sky (2012), QuickStep (2013-15), Dimension Data (2016-19), Bahrain (2020): And for Tears; after all he’s been through, who wouldn’t shed a few? Also Triple: in 2011 he won stages in all three grand tours.
U is for Unthinkable. Last autumn, that is how you would have described the current scenario of Cavendish riding for Deceuninck–Quick-Step and being six days into the Tour, wearing the green jersey with two stage wins under his belt.
V is for Victory salute. 153 of them and all different.
W is for World Championship: 2011.
Y is for yellow. Cavendish’s win at Omaha Beach in the 2016 Tour put him in the maillot jaune, completing the full set of wearing leader’s and points jerseys in all three grand tours. It also prompted teammate Steve Cummings to be seen at the front of the bunch the following day, which was pretty remarkable too on a flat stage.
Z is for Zabel. For trivia fans: when Cavendish won in Châteauroux in 2008, in third place was Erik Zabel, who dominated sprints between 1994 and 2001. When he won in Châteauroux in 2021, Erik’s son Rick (born in 1993) finished 14th.
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