≡ Menu

The moment Cavendish won the Worlds

Project Rainbow Jersey

Mark Cavendish won the World Cycling Championships in Copenhagen by crossing the finish line first. But the route to victory was more than the 14 laps and 266km around the northern suburb of Rudersdal.

200 metres from the line
Cavendish found a gap on the right of the road and went through it, powering away in the last 150 metres of the race.

The last kilometre
I think the British got swamped in the final moments, their only mistake of the day but Cavendish was lucid enough to find his own way through.

The last 25km
Normally this would have been the time to attack but only the swashbucklers Thomas Voeckler and Johnny Hoogerland went on the rampage and their moves were not allowed to get away. In particular Bradley Wiggins put his abilities to work to tow the peloton around but others teams were keen to neutralise the likes of Philippe Gilbert.

The first 240km
Britain appeared on the front of the bunch almost from the start of the race. Along with Germany, the team did much to control the racing and cap the lead of the early breakaway. At times it looked like a team time trial.

I joked yesterday that if Britain won this would prove a great tactic, if they lost then they would be accused of wasting energy. The post hoc judgement will be favourable this time.

An hour before the race
Cavendish got changed into a skinsuit and wore a helmet with a plastic film. This gave him a tiny aero advantage but if he managed to save 5 watts at 45km/h then the compound effect of this over almost six hours of racing makes a difference. This was British cycling’s “marginal gains” philosophy in action.

Team selection
The British selectors knew who the favourite was but they ensured the workhorses were there with the likes of Wiggins, David Millar, Geraint Thomas Chris Froome, Ian Stannard, Steven Cummings and road captain Jeremy Hunt.

Two weeks before
Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froom stood on the podium of the Vuelta. The confidence and strength from this surely helped. Meanwhile Cavendish rode the Tour of Britain, vital preparation before the Worlds. A stage race is often needed to build the condition needed for a long one day race.

Four weeks before
Mark Cavendish left the Vuelta early with illness. But he went to Girona to train with David Millar and Jeremy Hunt, logging big miles in the Spanish sun. British Cycling dispatched their coach Rod Ellingworth to Spain to help plan.

Two months before
A string of stage wins in the Tour de France saw Cavendish confirm once again his status as the top sprinter. He jumped from 64th on the UCI rankings to 19th and bagged plenty of precious ranking points. These points are used to determine a leaderboard of nations and the higher up the table, the more riders a nation could take to Copenhagen. Britain was able to select eight riders.

Three months before
Bradley Wiggins won the Dauphiné stage race, bagging more points and seeing Britain jump from 10th to seventh in the UCI international rankings.

Six months before

Paris-Nice podium


Third place in Paris-Nice for Bradley Wiggins seemed to set him and Team Sky up for the season. If this hadn’t worked perhaps the squad might have set up Rigobert Uran or Thomas Lofkvist.

Two years ago
Team Sky came in to place, allowing the organisational and coaching skills employed by Britain on the track to be deployed on the road.

Three years ago
Cycling Weekly’s Lionel Birnie wrote a great piece describing the ambitions and meticulous planning employed by the British Cycling authorities. They had aimed to win the worlds and began to plan how they could realise this goal.

Prior to this Britain had topped the medal table in the Olympic velodrome, taking the majority of medals. The goldrush planted an idea in the mind of executives at Sky.

Over a decade ago
The British cycling team was languishing. Graeme Obree describes how he travelled to international track events with borrowed equipment and even finding a mechanic for the Worlds was hard. But revenue from the state lottery in Britain were diverted to a scheme to pay sports governing bodies on results basis. This focussed minds at British Cycling and plans were formed to win medals at the worlds and Olympics on the track and in time the British track squad became a force to be reckoned with.

Narrative caution
Finally, whilst we can draw an arc through time here and match a narrative of British planning that stretches across decades to deliver Mark Cavendish to glory, let’s not take this as the only story. There is no doubt that all of the factors above helped but if a rider had closed the door on Cavendish with 200m to go then it would all be different and this piece could be outlining the path from the Australian Institute of Sport to Copenhagen.

But there are other factors. Look no further than the Telekom team that gave Mark Cavendish and then promptly collapsed, leading to an exit of the old guard and new managers arriving, bringing with them meticulous methods as well. Cavendish’s win was also Made in Germany thanks to the likes of Rolf Aldag and sprint coach Erik Zabel. We can add many more factors as well.

Above all there is Mark Cavendish, a phenomenal athlete who is so good he can win without a plan.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • TomC Monday, 26 September 2011, 9:34 am

    The GB team were fantastic all race and Cav did what he did best to finish it off! All said with the benefit of hindsight of course…

    I found it telling that Cav immediately acknowledged everyone from GB that had helped him get the jersey, from his immediate team to all the guys that had accrued points throughout the season and those behind the scenes. The cynic might say that it was all rehearsed but it was telling that after the finish he waited around to celebrate with his team members, waiting for them to cross the line so he could acknowledge their role. He has really grown on me this year and is a great champion.

  • dan alpin Monday, 26 September 2011, 10:39 am

    amazing, i still cannot get over it, it’ll be great to see cav in the rainbow jersey come the spring

  • RabAusten Monday, 26 September 2011, 10:44 am

    I believe Brailsford called out Millard as road captain?

  • RabAusten Monday, 26 September 2011, 10:46 am

    That would be Millar of course (arsing predictive text!)

  • RabAusten Monday, 26 September 2011, 10:47 am

    That would be Millar of course (damn you predictive text!)

  • Cameron Monday, 26 September 2011, 10:55 am

    Tour of Poland was very important too. I think GB picked up an extra two places based on riders performances there.

  • Rouleur77 Monday, 26 September 2011, 11:33 am

    Stannard and G unhitch the missile leaving him boxed in and in 8th place with 200m to go. Only a glimmer of space next to the barriers and BOOM! The kick is commited, Goss goes too and Griepel is tearing up the tarmac on the left hand side with Cancellara powering through the middle. Seconds later the arms are aloft and it’s Cav who stands in line next to Tom Simpson after some 46 years of waiting.

    Chapeau the boys of Team GB and especially Wiggins without whom, the attacks in the last 5km would have torn the GB train apart. Only the fantastic TT ability and searing pace he set in the final 5 k’s kept the dream alive long enough to get to the final showdown.

    I was jumping around my lounge, the dog was scared, the missus dissapproving. Ha Ha Ha.

    Already looking forward to the Classics.

  • ave Monday, 26 September 2011, 11:35 am

    The last km it was certainly not grade “A” for the brits.
    But Cav got lucky that he was not blocked out, and no question, he is fast.

    Ah, and again Greipel was soo badly placed before his sprint.

  • Melting Tarmac Monday, 26 September 2011, 11:48 am

    Chapeau Team GB. Chapeau Cav! Looking forward to seeing the rainbow jersey winning and winning and winning in 2012. But please, no white shorts 🙂

  • Dave Monday, 26 September 2011, 12:01 pm

    >But please, no white shorts
    I second that!!! Should we start a campaign?!

  • Starr Monday, 26 September 2011, 12:47 pm

    What’s wrong with white shorts?

    Nice piece inrng.
    For a while now, it does seem that the English and Aussies have been building with a plan to compete at the level of the historically strong cycling nations.
    Imagine if China started such a “vision”? They have 25% of the world’s population.

  • Adrian Monday, 26 September 2011, 2:36 pm

    I greatly enjoyed the race but when I see that podium I can’t help but be a bit sad about the loss of HTC.

  • Nick Monday, 26 September 2011, 2:49 pm

    There is nothing right about white shorts. Avoid, at all costs!

    And Ave, totally agree. He needs a sprint coach, pronto.

  • hrnk Monday, 26 September 2011, 4:00 pm

    If the chinese came up with a plan to dominate cycling their riders would die from the contaminated EPO they’d feed them in their food.

  • Rob Monday, 26 September 2011, 5:39 pm

    A superb, succinct and enlightening piece – I’ve linked it from my piece too http://reclaimingtheabandonedbicycle.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/act-dream-plan-believe/

  • mindtron Monday, 26 September 2011, 6:43 pm

    I still have a hard time with the fact that Millar is allowed to work so hard for the WC but come Olympics time he is banned from Team GB

  • Al Monday, 26 September 2011, 7:33 pm

    Whilst it sucks, and I fully accept that Millar is a reformed character, those are the rules. The one that I can’t get my head around is that he’s a welcome member of Team GB but that Team SKY’s own rules prohibit him because of the drugs.

  • Vandalay Monday, 26 September 2011, 7:53 pm

    Does the other riders on the GB team get any add’l compensation for setting Cav up for the win? I could see a rider not wanting to to work so hard for another non- trade team teamate to garner all the $$ and accoldates associated with winning a world championship. I suppose alot of those guys will be on the same team as Cav next year anyway.

  • The Inner Ring Monday, 26 September 2011, 8:20 pm

    Vandelay: there can be cash bonuses for competing and riding and riders often reward their helpers. As regular commentator “Flashing Pedals” quipped on twitter yesterday, Cavendish will be buying the riders a new watch.

  • evan Monday, 26 September 2011, 8:42 pm

    if they put on the helmet covers for aero reasons why didn’t they just wear their tt helmets?

  • bikecellar Monday, 26 September 2011, 8:48 pm

    If Goss had “drifted” to the right Cav would have not got through and Goss would be number one. Yes, as you say, it all has to come together, and it did. 🙂

  • Champs Monday, 26 September 2011, 9:39 pm

    Two weeks after the race: Cavendish officially announces his contract with Sky.

    Cavendish, Goss, Greipel: the worlds podium, or last year’s roster for HTC-Highroad? Someone forgot Renshaw…

  • Flashing Pedals Monday, 26 September 2011, 11:02 pm

    what will be interesting is how Cavendish’s new team, treat him regarding the ‘hard classics’.

    Sprints, and stage races where he will shine, that obviously will include Milan San Remo, and likely a Gent Wevelgem, but can he realistically be expected as World Champion to ride in the services of others in Omloop, E3 Roubaix, Flanders ? Those races would be the ‘optimum’ but whilst he is the fastest finisher on the planet, they are not his terrain, at the moment.

    I doubt he will suffer the curse of the Rainbow Jersey, after all, his domain is winning sprints, and with a team motivated by his speed, and his consistent ability to blow many away at the Giro/Tour/Vuelta even if you sit on his wheel, that’s as close as you’re getting to the finish line……

  • Andy S Monday, 26 September 2011, 11:39 pm

    Just a heads up for GB fans… Cav is going to Green Edge next year! 😉

  • Jim Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 2:24 am

    It sure seemed Goss lead out Cav as is habit. Surely he knew he was there and could easily have shut the door and become World Champ.
    I really don’t understand Goss’s thinking.

  • nikcee Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 5:30 am

    the most un-branded champ for quite some time?

    with no sign of his team livery (and lots of black) he looked a bit like a rider turning up at an out-of-town race incognito and then tearing peoples legs off.

  • Flashing Pedals Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 5:47 am

    I heard Goss interviewed moments after the race, where he said “I’m really pleased with second”.

    That comment, annoyed me.
    If he’s happy coming second, then don’t bother starting the race.

  • nikcee Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 6:05 am

    @Jim – He has said he hesitated for a bit too long when Cav went as he thought it was too early. A touch of inexperience perhaps?

    @Flashing Pedals – Au contraire, he was disappointed with not getting the top step, especially after the effort his team put in. There are a number of interviews and photos that show this. However, he recognised that silver wasnt anything to be ashamed of given how the Brits raced and who beat him.


  • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 8:23 am

    Flashing Pedals: Cavendish has said he wants to win another classic but even if he rides Roubaix or Flanders, he’s not a great help to the team. His low position on the bike makes him a less than ideal wheel to sit on. As for Goss and second place… Ag2r would be interested in signing him!

    Andy S: no, it will be Sky and I think he’s taking Specialized bikes with him.

    nikcee: I think Goss would settle for silver, we’d not seen him racing or getting any kind of result for some time.

  • Martin W Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 1:19 pm

    Greipel may need a sprint coach but who will tell Fabian to stop sprinting on the hoods?

  • Mark H Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 3:44 pm

    “Lionel Birnie wrote a great piece”

    Talk about a contradiction.

  • Mark H Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 3:47 pm

    “no, it will be Sky”

    Assuming the issue of his image rights is resolved .. and that is far from being a foregone conclusion.

  • Jim Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 4:56 pm

    nikeee, I think Inner Ring is spot on: he’s not used to winning. Hesitation or not, there’s no way he doesn’t know Cav is right there or that he’s going to find him. After all, how many times have they done this the past 2-3 years?
    The team mate in him chose not to close the door, so Sky’s lead out screw up didn’t hurt, but you can’t tell me Goss isn’t an Andy Schleck flat lander.

  • MT Dave Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 8:13 pm

    Congratulations team GB!
    But I have a question. How does a non-sprinter, time trialer/ classics man end up essentially getting third in a sprint with the fastest sprinters. Would we ever expect to see Martin or Wiggins get a result like that? There’s no doubt that Cav is the world’s best sprinter and Wiggins put on an awesome show, but man is Cancellara one hell of a bike rider.

  • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 8:36 pm

    MT Dave: Cancellara has sprinted for races before… and on the brake hoods too. We’re more used to seeing him solo in TTs or classics but he has the power to go uphill for 30 seconds too in those legs.

  • Jim Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 9:40 pm

    MT, Cance got a 5th on the Champs-Elysee in July ahead of guys like Petacchi. Dude can just bust it.

  • Rooto Wednesday, 28 September 2011, 5:46 pm

    The best piece I’ve seen about this. Thanks again, Inrng.

    Personally, despite the great pleasure at Cav’s win – a lot fewer people calling him Hobbit now he’s Millot Vert and World Champ – I was gutted to see Fab miss out on the podium. There’s a man who can do it on his own. His role at Leopard this last ye

  • Rooto Wednesday, 28 September 2011, 5:48 pm

    last year, and even before – essentially “come the GTs, you’ve got a couple of days for yourself, but you’re a team man, and you’ll pull us all up the valley floors” – could become familiar to Cav at Sky.