Mark Cavendish at the Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne.

Cavendish: ‘I don’t want to have to be what someone expects me to be, I just want to be me’

Mark Cavendish speaks about his career, his mental health journey, his return to form, and his 2022 campaign in a wide-ranging interview.

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Mark Cavendish spoke about his career, his mental health journey, his return to winning ways, and his 2022 campaign in a wide-ranging interview in the first episode of a new Eurosport series, The Breakdown.

The 36-year-old Manxman described the challenges that he faced over the past few seasons and the new perspectives he has gained in a lengthy, occasionally emotional conversation with Orla Chennaoui and Greg Rutherford.

Among the topics of conversation was the way in which athletes battle differing perceptions about themselves from external sources, something that has impacted Cavendish throughout his career. Agreeing with a suggestion that riding with a proverbial chip on his shoulder has long been a motivating factor for him, the sprinter shed light on his approach at this point in his career.

“One thing that I’ve learned, when a narrative can be talked about, you’d rather be proud of the person you’re looking at in the mirror than the person you see on TV. As long as those people – my family and those people close to me – know what I put in, know the person I am, and are happy with the person I am … There was a time when it wasn’t like that,” Cavendish said.

“I don’t want to have to be what someone expects me to be, I just want to be me.”

Later on in the conversation, he also touched on how those outside opinions can be not only a curse, but also a blessing, something he has come to realize amid the challenges he faced in recent years. Over the past several seasons, more than one of his racing campaigns was derailed by illness and injury, and Cavendish was diagnosed with clinical depression. He first began to open up about those challenges publicly in 2020. In 2021, he won four stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France.

Along the way, he found fans to be a powerful source of encouragement.

“Something I learned last year, actually it wasn’t even last year, it was the years that I was just a spectator, is that, you know, fans are not watching you on your journey. They’re living that journey with you,” Cavendish said. “It hadn’t occurred to me the best part of my career. Obviously last year, with coming back, I felt this warmth from people that made me realize. It’s not ‘Yeehaw.’ They’ve lived that whole journey. It was proper humbling. It proper opened my eyes.

“Most people don’t see it. I didn’t see it my whole career. It’s beautiful. I wish I could turn back time and know what I know what being a fan of sports means.”

Cavendish also shed light on how he came to be diagnosed with depression in 2018, which occurred as he was continuing to battle physical fatigue more than a year after initially being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus.

“I said, ‘I need to find out what’s wrong with me.’ I thought I’d go and get told I’d still got Epstein-Barr virus, which I did, but at the same time they told me I had clinical depression,” Cavendish said. “Then I was like, ‘OK. Now we start from … it’s a build up to just getting your life back isn’t it?'”

After his impressive return to form last season, Cavendish renewed for another year with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl for 2022, and he is set to embark on his first Grand Tour start of the season later this week at the Giro d’Italia.

Following the Italian Grand Tour, his schedule is a bit less certain, as Quick-Step’s Tour de France plans remain fluid. Despite Cavendish’s success there last year, the team has publicly stated its intention to give Fabio Jakobsen his chance to shine at the Tour.

In his interview with The Breakdown, Cavendish said that the questions about whether Quick-Step would take him or his young teammate to the Tour de France have been challenging considering their close friendship.

“Fabio and myself have supported each other so much the last years. The last thing I want and the last thing he wants and the one thing that scares me about all this is for any sort of rivalry to be created between us, because we’ve been there for each other,” Cavendish said. “Obviously, I only know that from experience, from knowing what happened when the press want to create a rivalry, and it’s not really that nice, and unfortunately it does start to cause friction.

“We’re not like that and we don’t want to be like that, and that’s why I’m quite reluctant to talk about it, because I don’t want to fall out with a mate because of something that’s out of our control. What’s in my control is not talking about it, so that those outside influences that are outside of my control don’t affect it.”

For now, Cavendish can focus on other objectives instead. He will look to add to his career tally of 15 Giro d’Italia stage wins as the race rolls out from Budapest on Friday.

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