Cavendish strikes, then asks for understanding
Montargis: Britain`s Mark Cavendish finally lived up to his self-proclaimed label of the fastest man on two wheels when he powered to victory on the fifth stage of the Tour de France.
In doing so, the Isle of Man rider whose prolific record has been matched by his "bad boy" reputation in the past year, called on his detractors not to judge him before getting to know him.
"There`s a lot of people who want to judge my personality on the 30secs of what they see after a bike race," Cavendish said after scoring his first win on this year`s race and 11th of his career.
"To me, if somebody`s so ignorant to dislike me without knowing me, it`s not worth worrying about what they think of me anyway."
In cycling, and especially at the Tour de France, Cavendish has become a massive star thanks to the 10 stage wins he has garnered from the race`s hectic bunch sprints in only two years, winning six in 2009 and four in 2008.
However the past season has been a comparative nightmare for the 24-year-old former track rider from Douglas.
He started the season delayed in his training because, officially, he had dentals problems.
His late start meant he failed to defend his Milan-SanRemo title from 2009, Cavendish finishing down in lowly 89th place over six minutes down.
The HTC-Columbia man picked things up at the Tour of Catalunya where he won stage two, but subsequently things didn`t go quite to plan.
His team pulled him out of the Tour of Romandie in Switzerland after a rude two-fingered gesture capped his win on the second stage, and he went from there to the Tour of California where he won the first stage.
After he went off the rails in Switzerland, Cavendish said it was aimed at his critics.
"I did want to make a statement to my critics but I realise that making a rude gesture on the finish line is not the best way to do that," he said at the Swiss race.
Then at the Tour of Switzerland in June, Cavendish`s bad boy reputation took another knock when he was blamed, and heavily criticised in the peloton, for causing a spectacular crash on stage three.
It left Heinrich Haussler, Arnaud Coyot and Lloyd Mondory out of the race and the next day the peloton staged a go-slow start to protest Cavendish`s erratic riding.
Needless to say, it did not win him many fans in a peloton where he already has few friends among the foreigners -- many of whom Cavendish has berated in the past.
Although Cavendish`s style is unlikely to change, the Manxman has pleaded for understanding, claiming he allowed himself to get carried away with success before he fell off his cloud this season.
"One one side of the coin you get the positives from that (success) and your feet lift off the ground and you kind of float on a cloud," he added.
"I learned a big lesson not to get on that cloud. People pulled me and I came down very, very hard. And it hurt, but I had an incredible group of people around me, and incredible family, an incredible group of friends."
After his disastrous start to the Tour -- on stage one he misjudged a corner, crashed and left himself out of contention -- Cavendish said he wanted to thank all the people who "stuck by me the whole time".
But, admitting you need "fuel to feed the fire", he has reminded fans just why he is likely to change as he rides steadily towards becoming a possible legend of the sport.