Mark Cavendish is more than just the fastest man on two wheels. The British cyclist is a world champion, Olympic medal winner, green jersey winner and holds the record for the most ever Tour De France stage wins.
In his capacity as the ambassador of the newly launched Abu Dhabi Tour, Esquire Middle East caught up with the cycling legend (and Oakely ambassador), to clear the air on a few things…
Today, cyclist are now sporting superstars. I assume things were very different when you were growing up?
When I started cycling there wasn’t anybody with massive fame outside of cycling circles. Back then the sport was quite niche, and getting involved didn’t really have anything to do with being a celebrity. You just got on your bike and rode.
When you’re young you don’t think: “I’m going to start a cycling, because I want to help the sport grow,” you just enjoy doing it. At the end of the day, if you achieve a good level of success in a sport it will help grow its popularity in the short term. With British cycling it started to grow and continued to grow, so more and more people became interested because we were winning and that was nice to see that people kind of knew what cycling was about.
You’ve played an important role in creating that culture
If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago what it would be like, I wouldn’t have believed the impact its had to getting the average person on a bike -whether they’re commuting to work, out on the weekend or racing. It really makes me warm to think about it, whether people are using it productively or just doing it for fun. That’s why I’m a on a bike. It makes me proud to think that maybe I could’ve been a small part of it.
When did you learn to ride?
I can still remember learning to ride. I was in my old house, around three or four years old.
Three or four? I must’ve been ten when I learnt! Funnily enough, it was here in Abu Dhabi…
Oh yeah? But is there’s no pavement here back then! Now, they’ve added split cycle tracks and people have starting riding, but before that you couldn’t really. You can see that and that’s why it so great you’ve got places like the Yas Marina circuit.
You could say you’ve exported that element of UK culture over here.
Exactly. When I was young, I was always messing about on my BMX and trying to go for the local league when I was 11. I was last on this race on the road and I was on my BMX.
I told my mum if I had a bike with gears like the others guys then I could’ve won. Back then I didn’t know the difference between a road bike and mountain bike, so she laughed at me. I got a mountain bike for my birthday and I went down the day after and won straight away, that was it really. And that was just in the Isle of Man. After that, I went to the UK and I had to be the best there. Then Europe. Then the World.
You’re an ambassador for the glasses brand, Oakley. What’s the relationship there?
Working with Oakley is different to a general sponsorship agreement, because they work with you to improve your performance. It’s more like a partner that works with us. When I was a kid, I remember buying my first pair of Oakleys cheap, thinking it was so cool. It’s funny to think that I’d be an Oakley athlete in a few years, it’s just something you dream of.
I assume you dont have to buy them anymore!
Haha. It’s an iconic brand and it’s one that as a rider, even if you’re contracted to wear another brand, they are the ones you want to wear! That’s not me sitting here saying something off a sheet that I’ve been told to say! The quality is why people want to be associated with Oakley sunglasses cheap.
I worked closely with them to devleop the Jawbreaker glasses, and they paid attention so that we could develop a product that was optimised for racing.
What sort of input did you have?
I sat down with the designers and engineers and briefed them on what I needed to have the perfect glasses. For me the last bit of apparel I put on before I go on my bike is my glasses. It’s a bit of ritual. When you put your glasses on it’s like the putting on your last bit of the armour.
A bit like a police officer in a cop film, sliding them on.
Yeah! But it’s really, there’s something in that and if you know you’re finishing off both aesthetically and practically you know you are ready to race.