Cavendish looks to finish job he started
Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30
Eight years ago, almost to the day, Mark Cavendish's attempt to join Britain's Olympic gold rush ended in calamitous failure in the Madison. He was the only member of the track cycling team to leave Beijing without a medal.
Cavendish bitterly remembers borrowing Jason Kenny's silver medal to get a flight upgrade on the way home. As the plane took off, he vowed never to set foot in a velodrome again.
Four years and a couple of weeks ago, Cavendish rolled over the line in London, his dreams of winning Britain's first Olympic gold of the Games up in smoke. For months beforehand, he would visualise the final few kilometres of the road race every time he drove into London.
However, on the final ascent of Box Hill, a large breakaway formed and in the seconds it took the British team to round up allies to chase them down, they were away.
So as Cavendish took to the start line in Rio, it was tempting to wonder what on earth he was doing there. He does not need an Olympic medal to burnish his legacy, for he will already go down as one of the greatest British cyclists.
He came a modest sixth in this year's World Championships and has already thrown a mild strop at being forced to leave the Tour de France early to try out for a pursuit team that had no need for him.
In 2010, at the height of his post-Beijing funk, he had bolshily declared that the Olympics was "not in the top 10 of what you can achieve" in cycling.
So you could argue that his presence here was something of an indulgence.
But sport is nothing without emotion and as Cavendish peeled back off the track, his Olympic campaign underway, we realised why he was here.
It was the same reason he was in London and Beijing. Once he starts a task, he cannot bear to tear himself away without completing it. Cavendish needs an Olympic medal more than Team GB need him to win it.
This is why he has thrown himself into the omnium - the roulette wheel of the velodrome and perhaps track cycling's most unpredictable event.
Two days, six races, across a variety of disciplines. Last night came the scratch race, the individual pursuit, and the elimination race. Today, the 1km time trial, the flying lap and the points race.
Barely 40 miles of high intensity cycling, after having just pedalled more than 1,800 miles around France. It was, as he put it, as if "Lewis Hamilton just won, then has to go and do a rally-cross race".
But then, Cavendish has always been the master of managing expectations, and as the scratch race started last night and he got into an early break with Lasse Hansen of Denmark, that familiar Cavendish impishness was back: the tireless hopping from wheel to wheel, those darting eyes picking out the patterns in the bunch as if it were one of his favourite Sudoku puzzles.
He finished sixth in that first race: the same as at the world championships. And although there are tougher tests to come, a powerful burst of speed on the final lap was a sign that he is comfortable and confident.
He is a man on a mission, determined above all to finish what he started. (© Daily Telegraph, London)