Self-flagellation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in professional sports at least, it’s the very thing that differentiates a prolific winner from an occasional one, writes Anthony Tan from Marseille.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

He knows his time will come. He never doubts his own qualities. I think that's what makes the difference between a normal bike rider and a winner – he will never doubt his own qualities.

After losing Tuesday's team time trial by a solitary second, I wondered how Mark Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team would cope with the disappointment, and how long it would take for them to bounce back.

I shouldn't have bothered.

Today in Marseille, Cav' and his team sprung back like a jack-in-the-box, just like he does when he loses a bunch sprint. He first gets disappointed, then angry – really angry! – then calms down, then evaluates, then vows to correct things, and then moves on.

I asked OPQS's sport and development manager Brian Holm, who Cavendish worked with during his formative years at HTC-High Road, before the pair reunited this year, whether being so self-critical propelled the Manx Missile to do better, or whether it holds him back a little, and if he's tried to correct his well-known proclivity towards self-flagellation.

"No, I think the main thing is, you have to take people how they are," he told me yesterday in Nice, moments after the team discovered they had missed out on yellow by the barest of margins.

"If you try to change (Cavendish) dramatically, it will not work anyway. So, he is like he is. You can work on details, for sure – but to try to completely change him, and say, 'do this, do that', that will never, ever work. It's very typical for a sprinter. It's not like he's the only sprinter who is that way; he is a guy that you can compare to many other (sprinters). I mean, I worked with (Erik) Zabel (as a rider) for twelve years, and in many cases they're pretty similar."

Zabel was very self-critical, too?

"Yeah, of course, of course. All the time. You have to be. I mean, if you just believe it's a given and you don't have to work for it, or don't have to do anything for it, then it's just not good enough."

How has Cavendish grown over the years, from the once belligerent you-know-what to the very much family-oriented man we see today?

"He's more focused on when to say what. Every one of us was once young and impulsive, and said whatever first came across our minds. Now, he's grown as a person and a leader. He has a natural (quality of) leadership. Okay, he's not that tall," Holm said with an impish smile, "but he has a natural leadership. People (on the team) listen to him when he says something."

Exactly how does he inspire his teammates to do what they do, day-in, day-out?

"Phwoooar! That might take a while – you better read his book (Boy Racer)!"

"He knows his time will come. He never doubts his own qualities. I think that's what makes the difference between a normal bike rider and a winner – he will never doubt his own qualities. He knows one day he will be there. He knows he's the fastest sprinter in the world. And that's why he's disappointed straight away (after he loses); he will be angry, which you need to be after that kind of disappointment, but he will not give up. That's the last thing you expect from Cav'."

'His health is okay then?' another reporter asked, since Cavendish made mention of it after losing the opening stage to Marcel Kittel last Saturday.

"It's the Tour de France – I think everybody struggles with something. After the British (road) championships, he probably signed too many autographs and stayed out there (in the open too long), enjoying the success he had, which was a little bit unexpected. He got a little bit of a cold and couldn't breathe like he wanted to, but he's fine."

So, with a stage win – Cavendish's twenty-fourth at the Tour – in the bag, what next for Omega Pharma-Quick Step?

"If you see the ranking of goals (for our team)," Holm said, "(the first) is to win as many stages as possible with Cavendish. Second is to win the first individual time trial with Tony Martin. Third was to try and win the team time trial. And if green comes, great, and if somebody else gets in a breakaway and wins a stage, perfect – but that's all not really high on the priority list."

Stage wins it is, then. Odds are, his insatiable appetite will probably see Cavendish triumph again in Montpellier…