Britain's greatest ever sprinter Mark Cavendish has revealed the unique and meticulous preparation that he undertakes pre-race to maintain his status as cycling's greatest sprinter.
Cavendish, who has had a prickly relationship with mainstream media in the past, sat down with Jonathan Liew of the Telegraph and the columnist is not shy in his initial appraisal of the Manx Missile, stating that if you judged him on his post-race interviews alone, you “might indeed conclude that he was a little dim”.
As is often the case with elite level sportspeople – who asses crucial situations in nanoseconds - Cavendish is a highly intelligent individual. A genius, in fact, Liew concludes.
The source of this genius? An incredible talent for assessing and absorbing his surroundings. Cavendish himself states “if I do a circuit then after three laps I could tell you where all the potholes were.”
Cavendish can’t reveal how or when he developed this incredible ability but the capability to absorb information at such a frenetic rate gives him a competitive advantage over his rivals.
The man who has claimed 25 individual stages at the Tour de France treats the last few kilometres of a sprint as a tactical chess-like battle.
“For me, it’s like a calculation, a series of movements, a series of chess moves,” he says.
“Not thinking, not having to react. Just reacting. By the time we start the sprint, my heart rate is probably 20 or 30 beats slower than the other guys.
“So many cyclists train their bodies. They don’t train their mind. I constantly do puzzle books. Smash through them. My iPad’s full of them. Logic puzzles. Bridges. Slitherlink.”
This ability to compute information at speed and under pressure sees Cavendish in a genuine cerebral elite – a region beyond the much feted “zone” that some sportspeople can find. While Cavendish is humble when talking about it, his agent, Simon Bayliff, is a little more forthcoming – interrupting the interview to confirm he finds “conscious subconscious competence” in these moments.
“You know when an athlete is in the zone? There’s actually a stage beyond that, where you are actually conscious of your subconscious. There’s a ladder: conscious incompetence, then conscious competence, then subconscious competence,” Bayliff continues.
Alongside his genius is, Cavendish confirms, an insatiable desire to push himself and improve: “If I couldn’t do anything [as a kid], I had to do it.”
As a test of his genius, Liew asks Cav to detail the last kilometre into Sanremo, the town where he achieved his breakthrough win in 2009 – maybe the Manx Missile felt he has a point to prove to Liew as finished the meeting by recounting the last 10km.
- Mark Cavendish