This week the shortlist for 2011’s Sports Personality of the Year was announced. Aside from the controversy surrounding the all-male top ten, cyclist Mark Cavendish has emerged as the early favourite to take the title. And deservedly so. 

In the last 12 months, the Isle of Man native took his total stage wins at cycling’s most famous race, the Tour de France, to twenty, became the first British man to win the Tour’s coveted green jersey and to top it off was crowned the World Road Race champion. No doubt he’s the greatest sprinter of his time, but it’s possible he could go on to be the greatest sprinter cycling has ever seen.

Yet many people do not realise just how big his achievements are. In Europe cycling stars are worshipped in the same way footballers are here. Mark Cavendish is David Beckham in Italy, Spain or Belgium. But still cycling (and Cavendish) does not have that high a profile on home-soil.

We in the UK love to see one of our own doing great. We love winning and we love winners. And Mark Cavendish is someone you can bet on winning for a while to come.

At only 26 years old, the Manx Missile is already the fastest man on two wheels and the one that other cyclists look to beat. Despite famously being the only cyclist in the British team at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to not win a medal, he still managed to win his first four stages at the Tour de France that year at just 22.

A mere three years later, that figure has jumped to a remarkable twenty stage wins, currently placing him in sixth place on the all-time tour win list. More so, this year he won on the iconic Champs-Elysees in Paris (the final stage of the race) for the third successive year. No one has ever even won there back-to-back before.

He also completed the 23 day race across 3,430km wearing the green jersey. The coveted prize awarded to the rider who wins the most points by consistently finishing high in each stage, is also a signal to the best sprinter in the race. It’s something Cavendish has been aiming for throughout his career. And he became the first British cyclist ever to win the jersey this year.

Now they almighty achievements on their own.

But 2011 wasn’t quite done yet. In September in Copenhagen, Cavendish – led all the way to the finish by the outstanding British team – became the World Road Race Champion, the first British cyclist to do so in 46 years. With the team controlling the entirety of the race, anything less than victory would have been devastating, but at one kilometre and a half to go having lost his 2 lead out men and been boxed in against the barrier, it seemed impossible.

Yet somehow, living up to the missile nickname, he emerged from the bunch sprint triumphant, quashing any millisecond of doubt anyone had. Of course he could do it. With the win came the coveted rainbow stripes, something Cavendish can wear with pride for the next year.

However, being recognised as the fastest man on wheels is not necessarily always a blessing. With the title comes the pressure of being the most marked man on the road. Everyone else in the peloton is looking to stop him getting anywhere near the finishing line.

While this makes his list of achievements even more astonishing, it also means that the level of expectation around what he can do is sky high. So much so that anything less than a win is seen like a failure, especially from Cavendish himself. While previously this kind of attitude has been seen as arrogant in the press, instead it is a signal to how determined and focused Cavendish is. And anyone that has seen any interview with Cavendish after winning any race will know that the first thing he does is graciously thank his team (hardly arrogant).

At the end of the season it was announced that Cavendish would be joining the British team Sky for the 2012 season, after the collapse of his HTC Highroad team. With the London Olympics approaching the dream is to undoubtedly add ‘Olympic gold medallist’ to Cavendish’s list of accolades.

Hopefully 2012 is the year that Britain gives Mark Cavendish the recognition that he deserves.

                                                                      Sophie Hurcom

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