Thursday, 19 April 2007
New start for T Mobile?
Since the days of Chris Boardman, there haven’t been many red latter days for home grown professional road racers. Who can forget the David Millar affair, stripped of a world time trial title after admitting the use of banned blood doping products? Millar is now on the road to full rehabilitation, of both career and reputation, in Spanish team Saunier Duval. The gutsy Roger Hammond (T Mobile) has also brought a few smiles, recently finishing second in the major Spring Classic of Gent-Wevelgem.
There is however an even more exciting prospect on the horizon – 21 year old Mark Cavendish (T Mobile), from the Isle of Man, yesterday scored his first victory as a professional rider. Confirming the talent that made him a World Champion on the track, the Manx powerhouse was first to cross the line first at the Schelderprijs Vlanderen in Belgium. The roll call of past winners of this race is impressive, confirming its status as a major ‘semi classic’. Surprising many in a race that is normally dominated by older, wilier, riders, he can be assured of ‘marked man’ status from this point onwards.
Nobody familiar with his riding should doubt his strength and power. I recall racing against him in his amateur days, flailing off the back as he destroyed a field of senior riders while still a junior. This victory merely confirms that talent. So many riders have been dominant on the amateur scene without being able to translate that form to the pro ranks, but Cavendish is showing that he’ll make the leap with ease, showing all the necessary ‘road craft’ to convert form into victories.
Another pleasing aspect to the victory is the vindication it gives to his team, T Mobile. In the aftermath of the Jan Ullrich affair, one of the biggest scandals to hit the sport in recent years, the team completely overhauled its ethical policies and implemented one of the most rigorous rider testing programmes in the Pro Tour. This victory not only confirms the arrival of a new talent in the upper echelons of the sport, but also a talent that can be believed in.
The question inevitably being asked is just how far can Cavendish go? Clearly a strong sprinter, to beat the likes of Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel over 197km of fast racing, all at the tender age of just 21, is no mean feat. He’s already aiming to return to the track for next year’s Olympics, but sees his future more generally as being very much on the road. He should do well in the races normally dominated by sprinters, and even if he doesn’t develop the extraordinary physique to be an all-rounder in contention for the GC at the major tours, points jersies should be well within his reach.
With such raw talent and such an instinct for victory, he should give us many more reasons to be cheerful as his career unfolds. And best of all, this really may be the start of a cleaner new era for the sport.