Mark Cavendish is at a critical juncture in his career, just as he was last year. Whilst his choice last year was fairly clear cut, given a move to Sky had been on the cards since the team’s foundation in 2010, this year, things are not so simple. With a move away from Sky essentially inevitable, the question this year is which team will give Cavendish the greatest support he desires for the sprint stages of Grand Tours, particularly the Tour de France.
So why then is this piece called Cavendish verus Cipollini? Well, because we have to as what exactly Cavendish is hoping to achieve in his career. Only a couple of years ago, he had a wish list of a second Milan San-Remo title, as well as Ghent-Whevelgem and of course, the Worlds. He now has a rainbow jersey, and may not get another opportunity for that one again, but the other races look curiously out of his reach – he has never looked like repeating the form of his 2009 Milan-San Remo last gasp epic, particularly because the organisers added Le Manie and seem intent on producing a classic where one rider, preferably Cancellara, wins alone, and the year he announced his intention to compete in Ghent-Whevelgem, the organisers announced they were lengthening the course and adding some more hills. Cavendish says he wants to be allowed to compete in the sprints, and his ideal move, to OmegaPharma-QuickStep, would see him lining up with Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra, all of whom would rank above him in the semi-classics list. So if he is giving up on classics, does that mean that Cavendish’s career is arguably spluttering out, reduced to ‘only’ winning Grand Tour stages?
This is where Cipollini comes in. If, as it appears, Cavendish is chasing the Tour de France stage wins/green jersey record, then his place in history is not lost just because he didn’t go after the Classics. Cipollini has a similar palmares to Cavendish: he won the Worlds and Milan-San Remo, but has also taken three editions of the easier Ghent Whevelgem, famously getting disqualified for hauling a bottle at a motorbike rider whilst in the rainbow jersey. Cipollini later took the Giro d’Italia stage wins record from Alfredo Binda, with an astonishing 42, and is remembered with affection, although this has more to do with being the ultimate showman. Famed for his antics, some choice Cipollini treats include his 10 minute advert for his new Bike where he outruns motorbikes on his BOND, muscle skin suits:
dressing up as Caesar, attaching cards of nudey ladies to his stem to titilate his way through the Giro and punching fellow riders to the ground before climbing off at the sight of a mountain. Cavendish may have been dating Miss Argentina of Italian Descent or whatever the competition was, and has now had a daughter with ex Page Three model turned Charity worker Peta Todd, but he will never top the heights of claiming to have won Ghent Whevelgem after having an orgy a la Cipollini. His attempt at dethroning Cipollini by cycling past him in a time trial with one leg backfired spectacularly, even though Cipollini was wearing the appaling colours of Rock Racing.
Still, Cavendish has plenty of time to win the Classics that would round off his career – he is still only 27, and the tradition is that as sprinters lose their pure speed, they convert to classics men and ravage the cobbles of Northern Europe. Whether Cavendish can do this is questionable – his small frame and continuing inability to consistently climb well could count against him – Paris Roubaix and Flanders look beyond him for this reason, but Ghent-Whevelgem, Het Niewsblad and another San-Remo are all in the frame. This is perhaps another reason to go to OPQS – where better to learn the art of cobble riding then a the team that has dominated the races for the last decade?
Ultimately, Cavendish has to go to OPQS to fufill his career destiny. He may have missed his targets this year, and is unlikely to match Erik Zabel’s 6 green jerseys, but beat Merckx’s record of stage wins and take a couple of wins on the Via Roma and he will be one of the greats.
Just not as great as the Lion King.