But a crash with a spectator 20km out from the finish of the 2007 Tour’s second stage, saw the man soon to known as “The Manx Missile” limp home in third last. Robbie McEwen claimed an remarkable stage win – possibly the best of his career, and his last at the Tour. It didn’t feel like the handing over for the baton, but in hindsight…..
Mark Cavendish would struggle through the opening week of his Tour debut before stepping off his bike on the road to Tignes. It was an inauspicious start. And gave no indication of what the next decade would deliver.
In the subsequent years, Cav has claimed 26 stage wins and three Green Jerseys at Le Grande Boucle. From the Highroad Train, to the Team Sky glory and Quickstep success. For the best part of ten years Cav has been the man to beat. The 2011 Tour is remembered in these parts for Cadel, but in that race, Cav was virtually unstoppable. 5 stage wins, a rocket fuelled force of nature who claimed Greene in a canter with a performance of incredible sprinting dominance.
But as we enter the 2016 edition are we seeing the dying of the light? As the monster sprinters of Greipel and Kittel have emerged with their well drilled trains, and wins in bunches, Cavendish has moved to the margins, firstly edged out of Quickstep by other priorities, and now by his own volition, with Olympic Gold the 2016 priority.
In truth, it’s been coming. The innate ability to explode out of the shadows of his lead-out man, and maintain the ferocious speed to the line, has been in short supply of late.
2015 saw the familiar victory salute early in the year. But instead of Milan-San Remo or the Giro, it was Dubai, Turkey and California that saw the best of Cav. His Tour was salvaged by a surprise win into Fougeres, getting one over his old rival Andre Greipel. But the rest of the big race, belonged to the big German.
A move to Dimension Data followed, with a core group of his old HTC train. Eddy Boss, Bernie, Renshaw. Let’s get the band back together. But like any boy band revival, the new material makes you nostalgic for the old. Play one we know.
A weakened Tour of Qatar saw early success, but since then it’s been the boards of London mixed with trips to some of cycling’s outposts. Croatia, Slovenia, California. Two wins from the last 27 days of racing. It culminated in another second place at the British Nationals. An alarming result that saw Cav eclipsed head to head by Adam Blythe.
And so when he rolls out from Mont-Saint-Michel, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the greatest sprinter of his generation. A ball of energy, passion, character and an incredible ability to win bike races. Cav. The Manx Missile. Good for a quote, some argy bargy, and a breathless celebratory interview.
We’ll remember the podium tears. The wins in Paris, the way he’d swing off from Renshaw and obliterate the best, the occasional F-Bomb in interviews and that smile. A man who not only was respectful to the history books, but a man who knew he’d rewrite them.
Speaking of his childhood, Cavendish said, "I was always riding a bike, getting dropped in little races. My mum would laugh at me, and I said it was because all my mates had mountain bikes, so I asked for a mountain bike for my thirteenth birthday and got one. The very next day I went out and beat everyone."
Part of Cav will always be that thirteen year old. And that’s why we’ll always love him and why we will all miss him.