• ESPN Sports Personality of the Year

Mark Cavendish: The fastest man on two wheels

ESPN staff
December 20, 2011

The past 12 months of the sporting calendar have thrown up a plethora of memorable performances, including a near-invincible tennis star, a globally-loved golfing success story, and a footballing magician who seems only to need one foot. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...

The Manx Missile. Such a nickname requires hard work to live up to the hype, as is a comment from the man himself who once famously said: "I am the fastest man on two wheels. Fact". Such a statement may be a shade bold, but there is no doubt that Mark Cavendish is the fastest thing on two non-motorised wheels.

A number of factors contributed to Cavendish not achieving his goal of winning the green jersey at the Tour de France before. In 2009 he lost out narrowly after being stripped of points for being found guilty of driving rival Thor Hushovd too close to the barriers, while in 2008 he abandoned mid-way through the race to focus on the Olympics.

Cavendish made it clear to anyone that wanted to listen that 2011 would be his year, and boy was he right. He had a slow start to the season, but the sole aim was to get his hands on Tour's green jersey. He won Stage 5, Stage 7, Stage 11, Stage 15 and Stage 21 of the 2011 iteration - bringing his total to 20 career Tour de France stage wins. The figures are truly remarkable and despite being docked points for exceeding the time limit on Stage 19, he did enough over the course of the three weeks to become the first British man to win the green jersey.

"I won six stages in 2009 but I didn't get the green jersey," Cavendish said after crossing the line on the Champs Elysees. "I wanted it this year and I won five stages and the team got a sixth with Tony Martin and I've got the green jersey so this tops off any result beforehand. The green jersey is an objective I've had in mind for a long time. It's incredible to get it. This victory is nice ... because I've got the green jersey."

Cavendish will never win the Tour's overall yellow jersey, but he has now added to his CV the prize that sprinters crave above all others.

Achieving his goal of winning the green jersey could well have been enough for the year, but Cavendish kept on grinding out the wins and headed to the World Road Race Championships in Copenhagen in fine form. Only one other Brit had ever won the world crown - Tom Simpson in 1965 - but Cavendish was backed by a strong eight-man team. The likes of David Millar and Bradley Wiggins controlled the race, teeing up Cavendish to sprint away and claim the coveted rainbow jersey - beating Matt Goss and his big rival Andre Greipel.

In claiming gold in Copenhagen, Cavendish became the first rider since Belgium's Freddy Maertens, 30 years ago, to win both the world title and the Tour de France green jersey in the same year.

Revealing what it meant to win the world title, he said: "I can wear the jersey all next year and the bands on my sleeve for the rest of my life."

Cavendish's achievements caught the attention of HRH The Queen who awarded him an MBE in November, but whether she will heed the Manxman's words at next year's Olympics remains to be seen.

He said: "We were talking about the Olympics and (my event) finishing on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace next year - I told her to give me a cheer when we come past."

The Olympics are the goal in 2012 for Cavendish, who signed a deal to ride for Team Sky, but he will do well to top what has been a stellar 2011.

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