So, this year’s Sports Personality of the Year extravaganza is only an hour away, and neatly side-stepping the already-discussed lack of female representation on the shortlist, let’s look at the people we can vote for. We have a now ex-World Champion boxer, two men who have been at or near the tops of their respective sports without managing to win a major, two golfers who have won majors but will inevitably split the Northern Irish vote, two athletes whose best chance of winning will hopefully come in 12 months’ time following Olympic success and two cricketers, extravagantly successful as part of a team effort (and the England Test team should indeed win Team of the Year). Some notable achievers indeed, and in a year with the paucity of 2006 (Zara Phillips?) there would be a few worthy winners, but unfortunately next to them all stands Mark Cavendish, and that’s where the argument should end.
The Manx Missile’s year could barely make better reading. Multiple stage wins at two Grand Tours? Check. He became the first British rider ever to win the Green (Sprinters) Jersey at the Tour de France. And then he went and won the World Road Race title in October, the first Britain for 46 years.
These achievements are enough, but it is also the manner of his victories, and his relentless consistency, that is astounding. Erik Zabel, renowned as one of the most highly rated sprinters of all time and winner of six Green Jerseys, won ‘a mere’ 12 stages in his 13 Tours. Cavendish currently sits on 20 spread over only four years of competition, already sixth on the all-time list and on course to eclipse the mythical number of 34 won by Eddy Merckx, the greatest of all. In a bunch sprint, previously thought of as a slight lottery with any team’s sprinter in with a chance, it is now almost a case of seeing when Cavendish will rocket out of the bunch, and then fighting over second place. When he was beaten in a sprint, on stage 10 of this year’s Tour by Andre Greipel, it was seen as a shock. And then he came back and won the day after anyway. Subsequently becoming the first man to ever win the final rush down the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es almost seems like an afterthought, such is the level of performance he produces day-in day-out.
His performance in winning the World Road Race championship illustrates this yet further. Team GB arrived with the plan of forcing the pace, eliminating all breakaways and setting ‘Cav’ up for a final 100 metre sprint. They made no secret of this, every other nation knew what was coming and had the opportunity to put a stop to it. The result speaks for itself.
There are yet more reasons. He is a sportsman with an actual personality, never afraid to say what he thinks or show how he feels, evidenced by his tears during the 2010 Tour following a fantastic effort by his team whom he’d previously felt he’d let down. He is always first to mention his team after a race, never failing to thank them for all the efforts to put him in the position from which he can keep on winning. And (whisper it) he looks a good bet to win Britain’s first gold next summer on a course which looks tailor made for him.
On the continent he is worshipped, one French commentator saying ‘how can a country as ignorant as Britain produce a genius like Cavendish?’ It is high time the nation recognised this, and voted him Sports Personality of the Year.