Club Secretary Stuart Dawkins shares his story of meeting, and riding with, Mark Cavendish in 2010…
One of the most compelling reasons to be a cycling fan is the ease with which you can get access to an event, and feel – even in some small way – “a part of it”…
In 2010, the British National Championship Road Races took place in the tiny village of Barley at the foot of Pendle Hill in Lancashire. At the time, I had family who lived in the village, so a visit was clearly in order. Of course, I took a bike, as did Claudine, my partner.
On the Saturday morning, we took the bikes out for a spin around the route, which took the form of a 7.5-mile loop, centred on the village. The following day, the women’s race was due to be eight laps, the men’s fifteen.
The course was a brute – either up or down pretty much all the way (only about 10 of 150 starters eventually finished the men’s race!), but that Saturday morning it was buzzing with riders checking out the course, at a nice recovery pace, prior to the following day’s exertions.
I waited for Claud as we came towards the end of the loop, but I could not resist a quick sprint up the final climb. As I slowed to recover at the top, I was aware that a faster group was approaching. Back then, I was regularly one of the “early groups off” in NCRA handicap road races, so was fairly experienced at joining a faster-moving pace line. So I thought, “Fine, I’ll ride in with this lot for the last mile”.
I let the lead cyclist go past, accelerating smoothly to take a place at fourth wheel, on the inside of two pace lines. I noticed the lead rider had “Downing” written the back of his Team Sky jersey, but did not notice much else until I had got safely got in line. At this point I checked the guy in front – the one whose rear wheel was a regulation four inches ahead of my front wheel. My mind registered HTC-Columbia kit, then I thought, “Hang on, there is only one HTC-Columbia rider in tomorrow’s race – Mark Cavendish!” On Cav’s right-hand side was David Millar and, well, I was happily riding with them. No pause, no comment from them (admittedly also no shout of “Jump on Stuart” which I usually get from a faster WVCC member in an NCRA race) just a mile or so riding at a steady pace on Mark Cavendish’s wheel.
I did drop off after that mile – I had promised to meet Claud at the start/finish line, also my group was about to hit the long climb and I know my limitations! But for that moment I was being led out by the world’s fastest sprinter on the course of the National Championship. Try getting a kick-around with Harry Kane (say) on the Wembley pitch on a Friday afternoon, and you will see what I mean about the ease of access to cycling events.
PS: it was also great to see then WVCC and Olympic Development team rider George Atkins in the race too, although he was one of the overwhelming majority who succumbed to the heat and the climbs, abandoning at about the same time as Mark Cavendish did.
Stuart has kept his story about the time David Millar rode past whilst swearing at him on the morning of the hilly time trial at El Escorial in the Tour of Spain for another time.
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