MONTARGIS, France – Mark Cavendish shed his bad boy image when he laid bare his vulnerable side by bursting into tears after winning the fifth stage of the Tour de France yesterday.
The tears rolling down the Briton’s cheeks as he stood on top of the podium finally allowed him to release all the tension that had been building up for months in the run up to the most famous road race.
“People who called me a bad boy simply don’t know who I am,” said the Briton after his first victory in the Tour this year, his 11th over three years.
The 25 year old, widely considered as the most gifted sprinter of his generation, was brought back down to earth this year when a dental infection ruined his early season preparation and forced him to change his pre-Tour plans.
The pressure of getting back to top form and the frustration of struggling to do so led to a few incidents which earned him his bad boy reputation.
Last year on the Tour, he was quoted by French media for ant-French slurs that he later denied.
This year, his two-finger salute after his victory in a stage of the Tour de Romandie fuelled the controversy and other riders demanded he should be penalised after he caused a crash during the Tour of Switzerland.
But his emotional break down on the podium on Thursday in Montargis even moved French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot, who said: “He’s not a bad boy, he’s a good boy. Riders are not bad boys, they are sweethearts.”
His team Columbia manager Bob Stapleton told Reuters the Briton’s bratty reputation had been grossly exaggerated.
“We always told Mark ‘speak your mind, be yourself’. He’s spontaneous, he’s controversial and it’s a welcome change when so many riders say exactly what they’re expected to say and are basically boring.
“He’s one of the most exciting riders in the peloton and one of the most exciting personalities. The bad boy image is just an interpretation of what he’s giving away. We have the inside view.”
Cavendish recently told an interviewer that his two-finger salute had been misinterpreted as it was in fact a reference to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 in which the French army cut the fingers of English archers they took as prisoners.
The archers later showed their remaining fingers to the enemy to make clear the struggle continued.
“It was a symbolic way for me to express that I kept fighting,” Cavendish said.
His victory in Montargis on Wednesday was a much more convincing statement. (Reuters)