Blogs & Opinion


Most Popular Posts:

More to Mark Cavendish's win-rate than well-drilled lead-out train, says Richard Moore

Blogs Posted 7th February 2013 view comments

It's the first week of February and Mark Cavendish has won three races, his best ever tally so early in the season.

He was asked on Wednesday, after his second consecutive stage win at the Tour of Qatar, how many professional wins he now has. "Ninety-three," came the instant reply. "Ninety-seven if you count team time trials."

Mark Cavendish: celebrating victory in stage four of the Tour of Qatar 2013

Mark Cavendish: celebrating victory in stage four of the Tour of Qatar 2013

So he is likely to hit the century soon. What's interesting, though, is how he wins these days. There was a time, from 2008-2011, when the theory, apparently supported by Cavendish himself, was that he owed much of his success to his team.

In those years the Highroad squad became the world's best exponents of the lead-out train - probably the greatest ever. The personnel would change, but the outcome was always the same: an arrow-head of white-and-yellow at the front of the peloton, Marks Renshaw and Cavendish at the rear.

The ability to analyse fast-moving, fluid situations in a split-second, and make rapid decisions - go much further in explaining Cavendish's rate of wins than a well-drilled lead-out train

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

Renshaw, the world's best lead-out man, would open it up, then drop off Cavendish 200 metres from the line, and voila! Easy.

Cavendish always played down his part, describing himself as part of a nine-man machine, whose job just happened to be to finish off his colleagues' hard work.

Thus did Highroad establish the blueprint. You could see other teams thinking that if they could only operate such a well-oiled lead-out train, the victories would follow.


You could certainly see that kind of thinking here in Qatar at the end of stage three on Tuesday. At one point there were three lead-out trains sprouting from the front of the peloton, like weeds on a garden path, and, for Cavendish, equally irritating.

Interestingly, Cavendish's new Omega Pharma-Quick-step 'train' was nowhere to be seen in the finale. Unlike Cavendish himself, who popped out of the melee for win number 92.

Only that morning, he had been asked whether his new lead-out train had been practising. He reacted as he tends to do when he feels he's been asked a stupid question (which is often). He screwed up his face and his eyes narrowed. "You don't need to do that. Just because Greg Henderson tweets about how great Lotto's lead-out train is, you don't need to work too hard at it. All you need is commitment."

So it has to be fluid and flexible? "Yeah."

After the stage, he said: "There were so many lead-out teams there. They think a lead-out is what you need but it's not. It's actually worse if there are more lead-out teams who don't know what they are doing. It just becomes chaos. And it was."


The next day, it was a little less chaotic, but there were still lots of 'trains' in evidence. And yet the result was the same: Cavendish won, despite losing his notional lead-out man on the run-in.

It happened when, with just over a kilometre left, Matteo Trentin went one way around a roundabout, Cavendish the other. In the confusion, Trentin glanced around looking for Cavendish's Omega Pharma-Quick-step jersey but couldn't see it - he had forgotten he was wearing the silver jersey of points leader.

Cavendish was found by another teammate, Niki Terpstra, who helped him move up "about fifteen positions." That helped, but still he ended up, as he put it, "freestyling." And using his initiative.

Here he is describing the final kilometre: "I knew from experience that the wind comes from the right, so you want to be on the left. But the road sweeps right, so the peloton naturally moves to the right, and I knew the gap would open on the left. So I did exactly the same as last year [when he also won] and just sat there waiting until 300, 200 metres to go."

As the others followed the curve of the road, looking for the shortest line, Cavendish remained sheltered on the left. When the road cleared, he pounced.

Surely now we can conclude that speed, bike handling skill and innate intelligence - the ability to analyse fast-moving, fluid situations in a split-second, and make rapid decisions - go much further in explaining Cavendish's rate of wins than a well-drilled lead-out train, which can certainly make the task easier, but never easy.

I don't think there are many cyclists who could describe a finish in the kind of detail offered by Cavendish on the Al Khor Corniche. Later, I asked him if he could list all 93 of his victories. "I couldn't list them," he said, "but if you told me them I could probably talk you through the last kilometre of every one."

The scary thing is, he probably could.

Comments (1)

  • Page 1 of 1
  • 1

Alasdair Buchanan says...

Well done Cav. Great start to the season. Last year must have been a disappointment. He is unquestionably a brilliant cyclist possessing tactical nous, race sense, unrivalled acceleration and a killer instinct. He has always had the ability to seek stage wins without necessarily benefiting from a lead out train. OPQS may not have the reliable ability to guide him home and and as shown in Qatar we may not necessarily have the aesthetic beauty of him launching from a well drilled lead out train. However, the prospect of much more rewarding and exciting finishes engineered by Cav will be something to savour.

Posted 13:53 8th February 2013

  • Page 1 of 1
  • 1

Add Comment*

Send us your views

Are you a Sky Sports subscriber?

*All fields required, your email address will be kept private

back to top

Other Blogs:

Latest Posts in :

Alex Ferguson

Clowney's no joke

US sports expert Alex Ferguson profiles Jadeveon Clowney, the biggest defensive pick of the draft....

Alex Ferguson

King James reigns

Alex Ferguson celebrates a wacky, smile-inducing year in US sport - and salutes Miami's LeBron James....


Alex Ferguson

Start your engines!

Alex Ferguson predicts who will triumph in NASCAR's showpiece race, the Daytona 500....


Alex Ferguson

A perfect union?

Alex Ferguson looks at the possible unionisation of college football and how he would handle the issue....

Alex Ferguson

Call of the century

Spacemen Portland pick Bowie over Jordan - Alex Ferguson ranks the biggest decisions in US Sport....


Alex Ferguson

Independence aces

Alex Ferguson kicks off his Independence Day fun by picking his 20 best bits of American sport....


Jamie Carragher

Bruce almighty

Steve Bruce deserves a mention when this year's managerial awards are handed out, says Carra....

Peter Beagrie

An Easter feast

Beags previews the cracking Easter action in the Championship, including games for the top three....

Ed Chamberlin

Van the man?

Ed Chamberlin explains why Tejay van Garderen is capable of plucking the Tour de France's Yellow Jersey....


Martin Tyler

Goal crazy

When did Liverpool last score three without Suarez and Sturridge netting? Martin Tyler has the stats......


Will Greenwood

Building momentum

Will Greenwood wants England to lay down a World Cup 2015 marker on their tour to New Zealand....

Dewi Morris

Heart and soul

Dewi Morris looks at a crucial weekend in the Championship as we head towards the play-offs....

Stuart Barnes

Ups and downs

Stuart Barnes says the drama of relegation must be kept in rugby, but the play-offs need changing....

Phil Clarke

To Hull and back

Phil Clarke looks at the mental damage done to Hull FC and Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup....

Rob Lee

Pinky and perky

Rob Lee blogs on his vivid Masters Breakfast attire and the men that made waves at Augusta National....

Paul McGinley

Joy for Jonas?

Jonas Blixt has the short game and heart to win the Masters at Augusta, says Paul McGinley....


Barry Cowan

Heavy burden

Great Britain's best Davis Cup since 1986 fails to mask their reliance on Andy Murray, says Barry Cowan....

Barry Cowan

No force without Fab

Britain's Davis Cup quarter-final with Italy rests on the fitness of Fabio Fognini, says Barry Cowan...

Alex Hammond

Going the distance

Marathon entrant Alex Hammond previews the Newbury action and Scottish National meeting at Ayr....

Alex Hammond

Rocky's road

Alex Hammond explains why she is backing Rocky Creek and Lion Na Bearnai at the Grand National....

Andrew Balding

Resting up

Trainer Andrew Balding says On Demand is progressing well - but now needs time to recuperate....

Johnny Nelson

The best of friends

It will be tough but Johnny Nelson expects mates Anthony Crolla and John Murray to serve up a classic....

Glenn McCrory

Manny happy returns

Manny Pacquiao is back to his best and could yet get it on with Floyd Mayweather, says Glenn McCrory....

Johnny Nelson

Delighted for DeGale

James DeGale's Matchroom switch is the perfect move to get him back in the mix, says Johnny Nelson....

View from America

Desperate deals?

Simon Veness reviews a crazy week in the NFL's free agent frenzy, as sides splash out over $1bn....


Neal Foulds

Night at the Circus

Neal Foulds is looking forward to another fun, raucous Snooker Shoot-Out - but can't pick a winner....


Neal Foulds

Simply the best?

Five-time Masters champion Ronnie O'Sullivan may be the best snooker player ever, says Neal Foulds....


Neal Foulds

Four to the fore

Neil Robertson and snooker's other leading lights are pulling clear of the pack, says Neal Foulds....


Kelvin Tatum

The contenders

Kelvin Tatum runs through the teams and riders ahead of the 2014 Elite League Speedway season....

Kelvin Tatum

Kelvin's 2013 Review

Kelvin Tatum salutes Poole's hierarchy and Tai Woffinden in his round-up of the speedway season....


Kelvin Tatum

Rich re-Ward

Poole, and the dynamic Darcy Ward, will wrap up the Elite League title at Perry Barr, says Kelvin Tatum....


Richard Moore

The final curtain

Richard Moore reflects on Sunday's Closing Ceremony to an unforgettable Olympic Games......


Richard Moore

A lasting golden glow

Richard Moore suggests all the British Olympians should visit schools and talk about their experiences....


Richard Moore

Favourite Froome

Richard Moore reveals his predictions for the 100th Tour de France, which starts on Saturday....


Wayne McCullough

Wonderful Davis

Wayne McCullough watched Antonio Rogerio Nogueria take on Phil Davis at UFC Fight Night 24. ...


Wayne McCullough

Jones shines bright

Wayne McCullough was highly impressed as the talented Jon Jones made short work of Mauricio Rua....


Wayne McCullough

A bloody marvel

Wayne McCullough salutes Diego Sanchez as he edges out Martin Kampmann in a UFC humdinger....