British sprint star Cavendish, who with Sky became the best finisher in world cycling, quit the hugely successful British outfit last year, with the team’s decision to focus on winning the yellow jersey the publicly cited reason for his departure.
But while the change in focus to the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – who won the 2012 and 2013 Tours respectively – did play a part in Cavendish’s decision, the Manxman revealed that his main concern was the lack of fun in David Brailsford’s system.
“I understood and would never have disputed that the yellow jersey should be our priority, but I’d been under the impression that ‘believing in better’, as per the BSkyB motto, was going to be about big ambitions, pursuing nearly impossible dreams, defying history and conventional wisdom,” Cavendish wrote in his new autobiography ‘At Speed’, which is being serialised by the Telegraph.
“I felt sad and disappointed that we were already accepting compromises even before arriving for the Grand Départ.”
This pragmatism, Cavendish believes, had an impact on the attitudes of his fellow riders, who were encouraged to put themselves above the team.
“The difference in riding a Tour de France for a team whose primary motivation is the yellow jersey was summed up neatly on the first morning in Liège,” the Manxman, who joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step this season, added.
“I’m the first to admit that I have fastidious tendencies. I also take my coffee very seriously, like a lot of cyclists. So I was pleased, then, when I came down to breakfast on that morning to see a Nespresso coffee maker.
“I was less amused when I opened up the flap under which you insert your coffee capsule to find one that had already been used by whichever of my team-mates had served himself before me.
“An, ahem, short speech followed, after which I was sure the same thing wouldn’t happen again. Except it did, both the next day and again the day after that, until my morning diatribes were a feature of daily life.
“But all my speeches were producing was hilarity – so much so that the team produced a warning poster on my behalf and stuck it above the machine. That was probably the most the team laughed in the entire three weeks – which in itself was telling – but the story of the coffee capsules became a kind of parable for me.
“For all that I loved Brad, Chris Froome, Richie Porte and the other guys, they were totally wrapped up in their own world. They had approached the business of making coffee the same way that they dealt with riding their bikes – with tunnel vision.
“The staff at Team Sky were there to execute their designated task and think of nothing else. It was efficient, it was professional, it put other teams to shame – but it also wasn’t a lot of fun.”
Another incident also convinced Cavendish that he should leave. His relationship with directeur sportif Sean Yates was already frosty when, following a crash during a stage he was tipped to win, Cavendish claims he was left stranded by his team.
“On stage six a huge crash 26 kilometres from the finish left dozens injured and even more delayed behind the pile-up ruled out of contention for the win.
“I had made it around the wreckage but to do so had skidded on my rear wheel, causing the tyre to explode. I reached for my radio and announced that I’d punctured. I heard nothing so I repeated what I’d just said, all the time trying to cling on to the back of the lead group while riding on a flat.
“For a few hundred metres I was hanging in there, until the road began to descend and I could no longer stand the pace with no air in my tyre. Finally, having remained silent in the radio the whole time, Yates arrived in our first team car, waited while the mechanic swapped my wheel, then drove immediately off without even giving me a push.
“I had never been left stranded like that after a mechanical, not even as a 22-year-old neo-pro in a tiny one-day race in France. Here we were at the Tour de France, on a stage that I was the favourite to win, and I was the world champion. I was heartbroken.
“It was July 6. This was the date when I realised this could be my first and last Tour de France with Team Sky. It was also the date of my last conversation with Sean Yates.”
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