Endless Curiosity

July 9, 2010

The Amazing Mark Cavendish

Filed under: Cycling — Alec @ 11:00 am

I’ve been reading Mark Cavendish’s autobiography, Boy Racer. It seems somewhat premature since Cav is only just 25, but it’s a great book, and very appropriate for the moment since Cav won yesterday’s Stage 5. Here’s a lovely video of the last few minutes of Stage 5, with the peloton looking beautiful as it flows along the roads, and here’s another one that really shows the buildup to the final sprint.

Cavendish had a ghost writer for the book but it’s difficult to know who did what because the text seems so raw and passionate that it’s easy to imagine Cavendish writing it all. The book is well-organized, with each chapter reflecting a stage in the Tour de France, beginning with the start of the stage, then flashing back to some episode of Cav’s cycling development, then finishing with the end of the stage.

One segment of the book that I particularly like is where Cav describes the last few seconds of a sprint. Here’s some of it:

… But I don’t think of any of that, at least not when I’m winning. I think of the silence… In those moments – the speed, the noise, the color, the danger, the adrenaline – none of that matters. It’s just you, the bike, the finish line, and the silence… How can you have silence when you also have tens of thousands of fans screaming on either side of the road? It’s a good question, and not one I can answer; at every other time in the Tour, the crowd and its noise are the tailwind that whips you along faster than at any other race in the season. In those final few hundred meters, though, you notice the noise no more than you notice the air; maybe that’s why, if silence is what it sounds and looks like, you feel as if you’re riding through a vacuum.

It reminds me of how amazing our brains are. On the one hand we can shut out everything except what we are focused on (try this great example of people passing a basketball). On the other hand, we can be driving along, doing all the right things, then when we get to our destination we realize we have no recollection of the journey – our brains automatically made all the correct turns while we were busy thinking about other things.

Update: Cavendish has just won Stage 6, with a beautiful lead-out from Australian Mark Renshaw. I’ll wait for a YouTube video before posting this. It was amazing to watch because with a couple of tight turns before the final straightaway it seemed that Cavendish was too far back to win, but Renshaw is such an incredible lead-out man and he had such perfect timing in making his move to the front that Cavendish could hardly fail to win. Renshaw is known as “the World’s best lead-out man”, having previously worked in that role for Cav’s great Green Jersey rival Thor Hushovd in the 2007 TdF. I imagine it must be frustrating for Hushovd to have Renshaw working for Cavendish now.

I didn’t realize how short Cav is until I saw pictures of him. On the web most of the bios say 5′ 9″ but he seems shorter, and one bio lists his height at 5′ 7″. But talk about acceleration – he apparently has the best kick (initial acceleration) of all the riders. And his sprinting style is strange to watch – he gets so low that his head is significantly lower than his butt, and his back is angled downwards to the front. Other riders get low, but Cav just seems to get lower.

Okay, here’s a video of Cav’s Stage 6 win, so now I can post this. Note that you have to watch a 20 second advertising video before the sprint.

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