Mark Cavendish: An intriguing ambassador for cycling and now an Abu Dhabi Tour stage winner

Briton’s Mark Cavendish edged Elia Viviani to win Stage 2 of the Abu Dhabi Tour, and with it claim the overall lead.

Mark Cavendish celebrates his Stage 2 victory, which earned him the overall lead of the Abu Dhabi Tour. Nezar Balout / AFP
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A day before the start of the Abu Dhabi Tour, Mark Cavendish was asked about how he felt on winning four stages at this year’s Tour de France, at the age of 31.

He seemed nonplussed by the question, as if unsure whether to be offended by the fact that four stage wins was an achievement – he has previously won six at a Tour, he pointed out shortly – or at the implication that he was getting old.

A caveat is necessary: Cavendish can often come across as prickly, not clear why some questions are being asked in the first place, downright offended by others. He is almost inaudible in answering others.

Perhaps that is part of what makes him a great champion and there can be no doubting that he is just that. He proved it again in winning the second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour on Friday, having narrowly missed out on the first stage in Madinat Zayed the day before.

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But in the second stage, he timed his sprint just right, edging out Italian Elia Viviani to win in front of a healthy crowd at the Marina Mall on the Corniche. Cavendish now wears the race’s red jersey as the leader on the general classification.

It was his ninth win of the season and, given his investment in this race as an ambassador, an especially sweet one.

“I’m very happy to win here,” he said. “The Abu Dhabi Tour, I’m the ambassador of the Tour and I got close yesterday. I didn’t get the opportunity to race last year so I wanted to come here and be successful. I was close yesterday so to get a win was really good.

“We were in a kind of difficult position towards the end but to see [teammate Mark] Renshaw come back and drive into the headwind to put me on the train of Team Sky for the final, it was great. It shows the motivation because that’s sometimes hard to get at the end of the year. I’m happy he could do that and I could pay the team back with the win.”

He is an intriguing ambassador for the sport, and a good one for its globalisation push; joining a lesser-established team from South Africa and his ambassadorship of Abu Dhabi is testament.

“Cycling has grown massively around the world,” he said. “There are some places you really expect to ride a bicycle and the fact that you wouldn’t first and foremost associate cycling with Abu Dhabi is what makes it a massive draw.

“What makes cycling special around the world is what you can see and what you can show from a race. Here in Abu Dhabi there is so much history and landmarks. There wasn’t a rider in the peloton who didn’t go past the Grand Mosque and didn’t stop in awe when we got in front of it.”

At the press conference after the stage, he joshed and jousted with reporters; counter-questioning, pausing for inordinately long periods of time before answering; taking good-natured digs, cracking jokes.

He was asked all kinds of questions about the state of cycling – it’s growth around the world, whether the season is too long, whether the points system on the World Tour is fair. Only at the very end of nearly 20 minutes was he asked specifically about the technical side of how this sprint unfolded and how he won it.

That is clearest evidence of his place in the sport, almost transcending it. With most other riders, those kind of questions would have come upfront. But Cavendish is news, big news. His views on everything and anything matter in a way, for example, that those of the Stage 1 winner Giacomo Nizzolo do not.

On Friday, though, he provided the umpteenth reminder of what has put him up there in the first place.

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