I’m the best f*****g sprinter in the world

An article appeared in Q magazine a couple of months ago about the band Coldplay. The article in question showed a human, vulnerable side to lead singer Chris Martin which doesn’t usually come across in interviews (or in their music).

Martin described how he constantly doubts the quality of his work and whether the band deserve the success that they’ve achieved. He went on to divulge that as soon as he steps on stage he forgets all those fears and in his head, for the duration of the gig, he thinks that Coldplay are ‘the best fucking band in the world’. But as soon as he steps off the stage, the questioning and self-doubt return.

The accompanying headline that the magazine decided to run for this article was:

Coldplay - The best band in the world?

We’re the best fucking band in the world

Needless to say, the decision to extract this sentence out of the context in which it was spoken completely misrepresents what Martin was saying and misrepresents the entire article. It wrongly and grossly fueled the stereotype that Martin and Coldplay are up their own arses.

The point is, the author of the article didn’t come up with the headline, a sub-editor did.

The same could be said for William Fotheringham’s recent piece on the Guardian website which was given the headline:

Alberto Contador ban clears Olympic and Tour path for Bradley Wiggins

This headline suggests that the only thing standing in Wiggins’s way of winning the Tour de France and an Olympic gold medal was Alberto Contador, conveniently ignoring all other likely challengers like Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara.

Bradley Wiggins - wants to become first Brit to win the Tour

The allusion of the headline was even questioned by the directeur sportif of the Garmin-Barracuda team, Jonathan Vaughters.

But what Fotheringham actually wrote in his article is slightly different:

Bradley Wiggins’s chances at the Tour de France and in the Olympic time trial have been improved by the banning of Alberto Contador, who will contest neither after being banned for his clenbuterol positive test in 2010. The odds on Wiggins winning the Tour were shortened after the ruling by the court of arbitration for sport to ban Contador until 5 August this year.

It’s a British view on things to be sure, but it’s a British publication. Fotheringham is merely stating facts whereas the headline, although using only slightly different wording, is more suggestive of the ultimate, now inevitable, success of Bradley Wiggins.

But perhaps Fotheringham should have looked a bit closer to home as to the obstacles that may impede Wiggins succeeding this summer.

The last time that Wiggins and Mark Cavendish raced as team-mates was at the summer Olympics in Beijing. The pair were taking part in the Madison event in the Laoshan velodrome. Wiggins had already won two gold medals, one in the individual pursuit and one in the team pursuit. Cavendish however, was in Beijing to compete in just one event.

The pair had previously combined to win the Madison world championships earlier that year in Manchester. But in the Madison final at the 2008 Olympics, it just didn’t click and they only managed to finish in ninth place.

Wiggins and Cavendish as Madison team-mates

Cavendish was left as the only member of the Great Britian team without an Olympic medal. He didn’t speak to Wiggins for weeks afterwards. But the pair eventually patched things up and have both spoken about a brotherly relationship that they share.

While both had Olympic gold in mind in 2008, their goals for 2012 are vastly different. Wiggins wants the yellow jersey, Cavendish wants the green. Since the re-introduction of trade teams to the Tour de France in 1969, a single team winning both Yellow and Green at the Tour with two different riders has only been achieved three times. It’s not easy.

To digress slightly, Cavendish is undoubtedly the best sprinter in the world. When he is an position to win a race, he very rarely gets beaten by anybody. But there are some sprinters who have cause to curse Cavendish more than others. Amongst the 79 road race wins that he has won thus far in his career, there are, naturally, some riders who he beats to the line more often than others.

Cavendish beats Farrar and Hushovd...again

The rider who Cavendish has beaten into second place in a bunch sprint most often is the American Tyler Farrar who has watched on eight times as the current world champion threw his hands up in victory right in front of him.

In joint second place, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Cavendish’s nemesis from the 2009 Tour de France, Thor Hushovd who has finished second behind him five times. But Hushovd shares this feat with Juan Jose Haedo who has also finished second behind Cavendish five times in races as diverse as the Tour of California, Vuelta a Espana, Tour of Denmark and the Volta a Catalunya.

If we widen this net to include both second and third places, the distribution is largely the same, apart from the results of Alessandro Petacchi, who jumps up to second place behind Farrar in the queue to resent Cavendish’s success.

One notable absentee from the list of riders who Cavendish has condemned to the minor placings is Marcel Kittel. The big German who is widely considered to have racked up the most ever victories as a neo-pro (now there’s a stat waiting to be disproved) has never come up against Cavendish in a bunch sprint.

Marcel Kittel may challenge Cavendish in 2012

In fact, the two have only ever contested the same race on three separate occasions. Two of the races were last year’s Scheldeprijs and last year’s Worlds road race, both of which Cavendish won (Kittel finished 36th and 176th respectively).

The only other race where both have been present is the 2011 Vuelta a Espana where Kittel won the first Grand Tour stage of his short career. But by that stage Cavendish had already abandoned and had not contested any of the bunch sprints.

Cavendish will see Kittel as just another rider who will be racking up second place finishes behind him, but the potential for rivalry between the two could be a highlight of the year.

Chris Martin may have doubts whether his band are the best in the world. But Cavendish has no doubts, he knows he’s the best in the world. And he’s going to keep on beating potential challengers to that title regardless of who they are.

However, in the height of summer at the end of July, it may not be Kittel or Haedo or Farrar or any other sprinter who will be cursing the loudest that Cavendish prevented them from winning, it may well be Bradley Wiggins.

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  1. Colly - February 7, 2012 @ 10:40 pm

    Did you include the stat from today, where Cav pipped Boonen in the Tour of Qatar?

  2. Irish Peloton - February 8, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    Aha! I didn’t. I made the charts over the weekend. I’ll update them there now. Good catch Colly!

  3. J Dunn - February 8, 2012 @ 10:45 am

    People muse over Cavendish’s acceleration and timing but I’d still argue Cavendish’s secret weapon is his relentless consistency.

    Every good sprinter (Goss, Greipel, Kittel, Sagan, Farrar) has a good day or two on which they might beat Cavendish but it’s a certainty that the Manxman will be back in the bunch the following day and the one after that, and the one after that.

    He’s sprinting’s answer to the energiser bunny.

  4. Irish Peloton - February 8, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    Well I’d say that Cavendish’s relentless consistency is due to his acceleration and timing. But I would also say that Kittel may also be blessed with this consistency you mention.

    He’s won at least one stage in the last six stage races he’s ridden and he’s already won this year. We could be in for some fantastic showdowns between the two.

  5. J Dunn - February 8, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    Woops, pressed ‘post’ too early.

    I was going to say that your graphs actually suggest that Farrar has been the most consistent rival Cavendish has had. OK, he usually finishes behind him but at least he finishes *with* him.

    There are more fashionable and flashier riders in the bunch sprint than Farrar but gettign close to Cavendish so often is still a huge achievement.

  6. J Dunn - February 8, 2012 @ 11:01 am

    Cavendish’s consistency is down to his ability to recover physically between stages. Other riders look knackered the day after a win but Cavendish just looks more annoyed.

    I’m not sure about Kittel. He’s fast and will be a star but he strikes me as more of a young Greipel than a Cavendish. The bigger threat to Cav is not so much any one rider but the sudden emergence of a load of fast men. After a rather one-dimensional era. he’s reignited interest in bunch sprints.

  7. Damien - February 20, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    In light of the consistent mind boggling statistics, my question is, does the Irish Peloton ever sleep?

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