By Shane Thomas
We started this series with a look at Jessica Ennis; an instantly likeable girl-next-door. But another one of Britain's potential stars of the Olympics is the cyclist, Mark Cavendish.
When he lines up to start the road race, Cavendish will be entrusted with the task of winning Britain's first gold medal of the Games. Given the location of these Olympics, British success could depend heavily on how the Manxman performs. It has been general consensus that Britain have had strong performances at the last 3 Olympiads, and twice these successes have been launched by golds from the athletes on two wheels. Jason Queally securing first place on the track, while (in a more fitting comparison) Nicole Cooke took the gold in the women's road race. Both of these were pleasant surprises to the British camp, and it should not be underestimated the morale boost that it can give their countrymen & countrywomen. The Olympics is the only occasion where various different sportspeople live in close proximity, and the news of a gold medal from one competitor can inspire another to do the same.
Now if there's one thing that Cavendish is never short of, it's self-belief. He is arguably the most complex and fascinating character in sport; a raging mass of contradictions. Often regarded as haughty and self-regarding, he ardently thanks his teammates when he wins races. As far as the character of Cavendish goes, he probably pens it best in his autobiography, as he describes himself as a, "joker, firebrand, self-acknowledged sometime b******, immature, emotional, generous, recovering scally, team leader and the fastest man in the world.”
It would be reasonable to surmise that this would result in personality dissonance, and be professionally harmful. However, this all coalesces to make up the man who is currently the best sprinter in cycling. And despite his tempestuous nature, when arriving in the closing stages of a race, his mind is akin to what happens when Robert Patrick hunts Edward Furlong in Terminator 2. Cavendish's mind is awash with the most precise calculations of when to make his move in a sprint. These can make the difference not only between finishing first or second, but finishing first or tenth. For those unfamiliar with the sport, the closing stages of a cycle sprint are a bunfight, a proverbial rat-race, with bikes almost clambering over one another to cross the finish line first. Timing is key. Make your move too early and you're likely to cause a collision. Too late, and you'll have missed your window, as well as missing out on a gold medal.
It's this comprehensive understanding of timing and spatial awareness that makes Cavendish so good. Allied to this is his ferocious competitive zeal. Conversations with him can be like listening to the recent BBC incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, as Cavendish is able to recite the traits of a plethora of roads, as regards their suitability for cycling. Not just in Britain, but throughout Europe.
In hindsight, one of the most significant moments of Cavendish's career was at the last Olympics in Beijing. The British cycling (track) team were imperious, so much so, that Cavendish was the only member of the squad to fail to win a medal. He was paired in the Madison with Bradley Wiggins, and finished eighth. Incandescent with fury, Cavendish didn't speak to Wiggins for months and lambasted the team for not focusing enough attention on the Madison discipline.
But since then, Cavendish's star has soared. He currently has 20 stage wins in the Tour De France, putting him 6th on the all-time list. And last year he won the Tour's Green Jersey - given to the event's best sprinter. He followed this up with victory in the World Road Championships. This is probably the pinnacle of his career (so far), becoming the first Briton to win the coveted Rainbow Jersey since Tom Simpson in 1965. These achievements were deservedly recognised as he was awarded BBC Sports Personality Of The Year at the end of 2011.
As we can see, Cavendish's stock has never been higher. But this could be a major sticking point when he takes to Box Hill on July 28th.
As stated earlier, Cavendish used the frustration of going home from Beijing empty-handed to spur him on to attain periodic success. He once compared himself to the legendary Lance Armstrong, in so much that they both use "anger and frustration" as fuel to their competitive fire.
But the problem is that Cavendish hasn't got much to be angry about these days. Not only is his career going swimmingly, but his personal life is also a source of happiness. Engaged to Peta Todd, the former model - who has just given birth to his first child - his mindset is beatific, which can be anathema to being the best in your field. After being estranged from Wiggins (a 3 time Olympic gold medal winner), they have patched things up and will now ride together for Team Sky in this year's Tour De France, which finishes only days before the Olympics begin.
Also, he has acknowledged that the dynamic has now changed when he puts the cycling helmet on, stating that "he no longer wins races, but loses them." Expectations carry a new burden. It's a sad fact of the world today, but Cavendish failing to win gold may be a bigger story than him winning.
Either way, it'll make for compelling viewing. If Ennis is our "girl next door", then Cavendish is our "mercurial wonder".
"The Greatest Events in Sporting History" is available to download from http://www.simplysyndicated.com/shows/sportinghistory/, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow us on Twitter @TGEISH