Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cavendish Autobiography Number Two

When Mark Cavendish wrote his first autobiography, "Boy Racer," four years ago at the age of twenty-five, it was not premature at all.  He'd been cycling's dominant sprinter for two years, winning four and six stages in the past two Tours de France. His ten stage wins were the most ever by an English rider. Not only did his future promise many more wins, but also more books.

Since then he's won fifteen more stages of The Tour, moving up to third on the all-time list, behind only Eddie Merckx and Bernard Hinault.  He's also won the World Championship and become a father and had quite a few more of his trademark crying fits, providing him with more than enough material for a second installment of his life story, "At Speed, My Life in the Fast Lane."

He's always been one of the most colorful personalities in the sport, and his personality shines brightly in his writing. Both his books are laden with profanity and punctuated by bursts of tears.  He is so prone to tears, a friend points out to him that at some point he has cried in every Tour de France he has ridden. The 2010 Tour was the first of four this book covers.  Cavendish got off to a slow start.  His first win didn't come until the fifth stage.  When he narrowly lost the fourth stage to Alessandro Petacchi, he buried his head under a towel and wept. He "blubbers" to a team press officer, "What's fucking happened."

A day later he shed tears of joy, when he finally wins the first of the five stages he would win that year.  He cried at the finish line and then on the podium the tears came in an "uncontrollable flood"  when The Tour Anthem is struck up.  The book includes a photo of those tears with a caption of "Blood, sweat and tears," and "undoubtedly one of my most emotional victories."

He is so cognizant of crying, that he surprises himself when he doesn't cry on the podium after winning the World Championship Road Race in 2011 in Copenhagen as the English national anthem is played. On another occasion he imagines tears when none are there, thinking he sees tears welling in Lance Armstrong's eyes during his Oprah confession, as he watched from a hotel room in Argentina where he was racing. He may have been blinded by tears of his own.  Lance had been a friend and someone he greatly admired.  He doesn't condemn Armstrong.  He's no harsher than saying he takes "a dim view of at least some of what he was alleged to have done."  But at the time he wrote his book, he hadn't spoken to him in a year.

Tears figure so prominently in his psyche that he wrote he wanted to cry after a fan threw urine on him during the first time trial in the 2013 Tour, a day after he was involved in a crash that some blamed him for, knocking down one of Krippel's teammates in the sprint that resulted in another Krippel win.  The Sky team psychiatrist, who Cavendish didn't particularly care for, nearly reduced him to tears when he gave him an unwelcome diagnosis.  And as if tears don't get mentioned often enough, twice he refers to wounds and cuts as "weeping."  

This book is no less frank and provocative than his first.  He criticizes teammates and opponents and his manager and a team doctor and his factotum.  And he doesn't spare himself.  He was less than considerate to his super-model wife during her pregnancy.  He admits that ex-teammate and arch rival Andre Griepel is "basically a nice bloke" and that he isn't.  The book isn't quite as heavy with Englishisms as was the first, but he is clearly writing for his home audience using such metaphors as "like Lionel Messi on a dribble."  But the home-grown expressions (prat, scalawag, wonky, punter, piss-take, knackered...) only add to the book's charm and are mostly self-explanatory.

For those who might think his five-year reign as King of the Sprinters came to an end at this year's Tour,  he offers an explanation for his sub-par performance, only winning two stages and losing on the Champs Élysées for the first time in five years.  He said he arrived at The Tour with an infection and was weakened by a dose of antibiotics.  On the second stage in Corsica he could barely generate 300 watts of power, something he could ordinarily do without breaking a sweat.  And then late in The Tour he discovered he had been riding with mismatched crank arms,  one a 172 and the other a 172.5.  His first book, too, mentions a mechanical mishap with someone putting a wrong wheel on his bike for one stage, though it didn't prevent him from winning that stage.

He says his year on the English Sky team wasn't much fun, even though it included being part of the team that helped Bradley Wiggins become the first English rider to win The Tour de France.  He wasn't happy at all about the minimal support given him during The Race, enabling him to win only three stages, when he had been accustomed to winning five, and not allowing him to contend for the Green Jersey.  Team director Sean Yates so upset him after a crash on an early stage in that 2012 Tour, not letting him draft the team car, or sending back a teammate to help him regain the peloton, or even giving him a push, he didn't speak to him again.  He called him, "Cold, uninspiring and miserly in praise."  It was then he knew he'd leave Sky.

The book also covers his final season with the HTC-Columbia team before he moved to Sky and his friction with team owner Bob Stapleton.  He is unmincing in his lack of respect for him.

Weight is an occasional issue.  A nutritionist was sent to live and cook with him before the 2012 Olympics to get him to optimum weight.  He usually ends The Tour de France at his lightest, 152 pounds, but can balloon up to 167 pounds during the off-season.  If he has the motivation of early-season racing in January, it helps him keep his weight down during the holidays.

The only supplements he admits to taking are multivitamin and beta-alanine tablets.  The recently mandated no-needle policy has made recovery more difficult.  Intravenous drips during three-week tours made a noticeable difference.  He doesn't comment on the drug-testing other than to mention that it took him over an hour to provide the requisite 90 milliliters of urine after his third-place finish on the Champs Élysées this year.  He gave an initial 75 milliliters, but that wasn't enough.

Along with only winning two stages at this year's Tour, his fewest since his first in 2007 when he won none, the price of the book may be a further indication that he has peaked out.  "Boy Racer" was priced at $21.95.  "At Speed" has a price of $18.95 on its jacket.  In all likelihood there will be at least one more installment in his series of autobiographies.  Wouldn't it be nice if the same could be said for Armstrong, who also released two autobiographies in the midst of his career.  His first fully honest book could be the highest selling cycling book ever.

One last thing that both Cavendish books share: misinformation about the Tourmalet.  Book number one stated it was the first climb in the Pyrenees ever climbed by The Tour in 1910.  It was in fact the third, preceded by the Peyresourde and the Aspin.  Book number two states it was on the Tourmalet in that 1910 Tour that Octavio Lapize called The Tour organizers "assassins" for sending them over these mountains.  It was actually on the Aubisque, the final of the day's four climbs. Maybe his next book can get something wrong about Eugene Christophe breaking his fork on the Tourmalet in the 1913 Tour as so many books do.


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