Ever wondered what a bloke who’d just finished a major tour looked like? He’d be relieved, right? And elated. Really flippin’ elated. In fact, he’d be as elated as a bloke with a particular propensity for elation who’d just enjoyed a particularly elating, three-week experience, wouldn’t he?
Well, no, apparently he wouldn’t.
This afternoon High Road’s Mark Cavendish completed the Giro d’Italia on Milan’s Corso Venezia – and with it his first major tour – and slumped over his handlebars. He looked at the stopwatch, then mopped his brow. But he didn’t smile. Sure, Cavendish was pleased it was all over, but mostly he was just tired. Tired and impatient to get home.
By the time you read this, the infant king of the sprinters will probably be back in Manchester. There were no flights back to his home in the Isle of Man tonight, and no party to go to in Milan. Instead, at half-past seven tonight, Cavendish would be on a plane back to the UK, and almost certainly fast asleep.
“The first mountain stage to Pampeago was the hardest moment,” said Cavendish Saturday, the winner of sprint stages in Catanzaro and Cittadella. “There, I was in a state, an unbelievable state. I didn’t eat enough. But that was the only day when I really thought I was done.
“If I finish the Giro, it’s as important as winning a stage,” he continued. “It’s a big achievement. But it hit me yesterday, how tired I am. I woke up this morning upset because I wanted to go back to sleep. I’m really tired.”
Perhaps more than his quicksilver sprinting, Cavendish’s resilience in the Alps and Dolomites has surprised more than one pundit. The Manxman doesn’t know why.
“Who says that I can’t climb anyway? What’s all that about?” he spluttered yesterday. “There’s no need for me to be able to climb. Okay, I’ve never done such a lot of hard climbs in a race, but I do climbs like this in training every day. I climb two 1,000 metre climbs every day when I train.
“I’m never going to become a better ‘climber”, I’ll just get generally stronger. I’ll never be in the front group, and I’ll never even be with the good group – I’ll always be with the back group, but as long as I can recover, that’s the main thing.”
A very happy cavendish, winning his second giro stage may 23.: a very happy cavendish, winning his second giro stage may 23. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
As well as his brace of stage wins, plus his freshly-earned spurs as a major tour finisher, Cavendish goes away from this race with a new-found standing in the pro peloton. Pooh-poohed by some Italian riders prior to the race, over the past three weeks, the 23-year-old’s talent, his selflessness and his spontaneity have won over the tifosi, the Italian media, and more than one sceptic in the peloton.
“I didn’t know how it’d be here, after some Italian riders had given me a label before I’d even raced here,” he said on Saturday. “I didn’t know how I’d be received. It’s nice that I’ve got a bit respect. A young rider comes in and starts winning, and automatically gets given a label. Roger [Hammond – his High Road team-mate] told me to just ignore it.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just sport, it’s everywhere that it happens…But, yeah, more riders came up to me the day after André Greipel won his stage [it’s widely agreed that Cavendish let his High Road team-mate take first place] than when I won mine. That was good.”
Cavendish, elated to win his first giro stage may 13.: cavendish, elated to win his first giro stage may 13. DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
More experienced, more respected and two more prestigious wins to the good, he may be tired, but Mark Cavendish ends this Giro a better rider and a bigger man than when he started.