Monday, January 2, 2012

How Mark Cavendish gave the Isle of Man its best moment of 2011

How Mark Cavendish gave the Isle of Man its best moment of 2011

Date Posted: 01/Jan/2012 11:45
By: Bill Dale

THE Isle of Man has made many headlines around the world over the years, but surely none can compare to the incredible moment before Christmas when Mark Cavendish won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Now that he’s the number one, the days of trying to establish his place are gone. Cav knows that the rest of professional cycling now knows that he’s the best; there’s nothing left to prove. And it has shown in the way Cavendish has handled himself, particularly in the last twelve months.

It doesn’t mean he won’t say his bit in the future when one of his opponents cuts him up in a sprint finish, or someone else tries to wipe him out in the peloton. Indeed, it would be a disappointment if Cav didn’t speak up when the media mob ask their often inane questions. His straight-to-the-point replies make great headlines for the likes of me, and also show he has a good Manx sense of humour.

But Mark Cavendish has reached a new echelon with the BBC Sports Personality award. 

Cavendish has been described many times in the media as “the David Beckham of cycling” and there is quite a parallel between the two. Beckham was a footballer slaughtered by the media for his immature sending off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. But he bounced back and turned from villain to hero in 2001 when he scored the remarkable free kick to snatch a 2-2 draw against Greece to qualify for the World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.

Equally, Cavendish, with many an outspoken word and frequent expletives, became the target of the cycling media as he emerged a few years ago as Britain’s top hope for the future and won his first stages in the Tour de France. The British press knew they had a gem in their midst and, as is typical in this country, the media tried to undermine the Manx lad’s ability.

It took a little while, and Cavendish - young and fiery - clearly thought he could take on the media and give as good as he got. Many have walked the same path and eventually realised it was futile.

This was illustrated perfectly when Cav made a V sign when he crossed the line to win the second stage of the Tour de Normandie in 2010 - aimed at the media who said his career was “finished” after a poor start to the season. HTC withdrew him from the tour and Cav had to issue a fast apology.

But once Cavendish realised that battling with the media was a waste of time, he started to turn it around. Instead of biting back when some idiot reporter stuck a microphone under his nose seconds after winning a stage and asked some ridiculously stupid question, Cavendish learned to be cool, not to over-react, to collect his thoughts, provide a positive sound-bite and the media game was won.

The turning point for me was his response to the Australian media when Cavendish was repeatedly goaded last January about his former HTC Highroad team mate and rival German rider Andre Greipel. Instead of standing his ground and saying something which might have got him into bother, Cavendish turned to the waiting reporters and told them that he and Greipel “were actually lovers!” 

It was a big turning point. Suddenly reporters smiled instead of growled. Cavendish had won the media over. And after his amazing 2011 season, suddenly Cavendish has become the media’s hero. Like Beckham in 2002, all of Cavendish’s previous indiscretions seemed to disappear as the Manxman took hold of the professional cycling scene by the scruff of the neck and then went on to his third Champs Elysees win and the prized Tour de France green jersey. 

But the moment of all moments for Cavendish - and for anyone and everyone with a connection to the Isle of Man - was on December 22nd when Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson opened the golden envelope and read out the name of ‘one of ours’ and said words which the Isle of Man will never forget. “The winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is . . . Mark Cavendish.” 

How absolutely wonderful for Mark, his lovely partner Peta, his family, his friends and for the sport of cycling. But how unbelievably fantastic a moment it was for every single person with a connection to the Isle of Man. Not just those who live on the Island, but all over the world.

To be Manx - or connected to the Isle of Man in any way - at that moment was special, very very special. It made us proud, yes, but not in an arrogant way. It was pride in a truly humbling way. A lad who first rode a bicycle as a little boy on the streets of the Isle of Man who then tried racing against other little lads around the NSC on a Tuesday night, urged on by Dot Tilbury, was standing there with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in his hands.

Will there ever be another moment like it? Maybe. The Isle of Man seems to be producing talented sports men and women every year and maybe one of the new young cycling professionals will make it big in the near future? Maybe Conor Cummins will achieve his ambition of winning one of the big TT superbike races? 

But, for now, it’s Cavendish’s moment. No Manx sports man or woman has ever made such an impact in such a short space of time and achieved so much on the world stage. His name is household all over the world - and Europe in particular - for his cycling achievements. We all thought the TT was the Isle of Man’s greatest asset in terms of recognition. That has now all changed. Millions more people in the world know Mark Cavendish than John McGuinness.

The honour is the current pinnacle in a so far dazzling professional cycling career, winning stages in the world’s biggest events and finally claiming the green sprinter’s jersey at the Tour de France this year. And the three wins in a row on the Champs Elysees are now embedded in cycling history. I’m sure the Isle of Man must have shuddered like a mini earthquake as thousands of us watched Cav burst out of the pack to the chequered flag, leaving everyone in his wake. It certainly did in my house, also losing my voice for several days!

When he collected the BBC award just before Christmas, Cav might not have mentioned the Isle of Man in his acceptance speech, and maybe he might look back and wished he had done so and perhaps mentioned the likes of Geoff Quine and Dot Tilbury and all the inspirational local cycling fraternity who have played such a huge part in kick-starting Cav’s career.

But there was no need. His Manx background was mentioned many times during the programme and his love of the Isle of Man is now known all over the world. He chose the moment to speak coolly and calmly about his love of cycling and the honour that the BBC award gave to his sport.

And he made mention several times about how he could not have achieved anything without the back-up of team mates and his support crew. His maturity in front of a massive live television audience was impressive.

So, where does Cav go from here? Bob Geldoff wrote a book after Live Aid entitled ‘Is that it?’ which suggested he wasn’t quite sure what more he could do with his life. Mark Cavendish, at 26, still has the cycling world in his hands. If he avoids injury, there’s no reason to stop him becoming the most successful sprinter in the history of the Tour de France and to win more stages than any other rider in history.

He clearly has the ability and he clearly has the desire. Like Bob Geldoff, there are many, many more things in life that Mark Cavendish can achieve.

One question remains for the Isle of Man to ponder, but hopefully not for too long. If the Isle of Man government doesn’t do something about utilising this lad’s worldwide fame for the benefit of the Island - and tourism in particular - it would be a crime.

We should scrap all existing tourism promotions; give the money to Cavendish and pay him to speak about the Isle of Man and promote his beloved Island. Millions all over the planet are watching his every move and hanging on every word. Will the Isle of Man ever have a better opportunity to promote itself?

But, for the moment, for those of us here in the Isle of Man and the many, many more thousands living all over the world with a Manx connection, the last few weeks have been a fantastic opportunity for us to celebrate that unbelievably special moment when Mark Cavendish stood in front of millions of television viewers to receive the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

A moment never, ever to be forgotten for the Isle of Man. Thanks Mark.

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