Mark Cavendish exclusive: I'm a control freak, there's ridiculous order about everything I do
21:30 GMT, 26 June 2012
Mark Cavendish looks across at a jacket slung on to a chair as we meet in a studio in central London.
‘I’m not sick,’ he says. ‘But I wouldn’t allow that in my house.’
On Saturday in Liege, the Manx rider will begin his defence of the green jersey he won in last year’s Tour de France.
Exactly four weeks later, the nation will be cheering him on to win Great Britain’s first gold medal of London 2012, in the road race that finishes on The Mall.
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Today he changes out of the dark suit he was wearing for a photo shoot and sits behind a desk. It could be a psychiatrist’s couch.
He talks candidly about his compulsive nature, his ordered mind, his meticulous preparation — as well as about his perfect princess in her baby-pink nursery.
‘I’m a control freak,’ he declares. ‘There is a ridiculous order about everything I do: what I wear, my schedule, how I train, what I eat, how my house is. Everything has to be precisely how I want it.’
Is this Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
‘That’s switching the light switch on five times or knocking your head against a wall,’ he says. ‘I just want things in order. I like “control freak” more than “OCD”.
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‘I wouldn’t have anything lying around in my house. I’m just tidy.’
His former Page Three girl partner, Peta, cooks, but he washes up to make sure the job is completed to his exacting standards.
Peta gave birth in April to his first child, a beautiful little girl called Delilah Grace, who lived up to the romantic image he had for her during the pregnancy.
‘I think she will be a cute doll,’ he said back then.
As Cavendish was saying that, five weeks before the birth, he had already bought in a full year’s clothes for her. The high chair was ready. The nappies, too.
‘The nursery is baby, baby pink,’ he adds. ‘The name they give it is Princess Pink. The cot and the furniture is all white wood.
‘Professionally and privately these are the greatest moments of my life: winning the green jersey and the world championships last year; I am with Team Sky, the biggest team in the world; and the Olympics are coming up. Everything’s super sweet.’
Cavendish speaks his mind – ‘If you do that you don’t worry what bull**** you’ve said’ – and that makes him engaging and honest.
It helps explain why, along with his historic feats on the track, he won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Sports Journalists’ Association awards last December.
‘I prepare more than most of the other guys,’ he reveals. ‘I prepare my mind as well as my body. I do a lot of puzzles to keep my mind active. I enjoy reading, from novels to biographies. I do chess and other board games. You have to keep your reflexes going.
‘I hear something on the radio and then I spend an hour and a half reading up about it, learning more. I always was like that from when I was a kid. My spelling had to be perfect. My times tables had to be perfect. I got As and Bs at GCSE but already I was on the way to being a professional rider.
‘I haven’t always been able to explain my personality until now. I was asked if I was driven. I didn’t know; it’s just the way I am.
‘I find it really hard to understand other people’s logic. I get frustrated if a driver just stops at a round-about — why stop dead when you can see you don’t need to’
No wonder, then, that he derided the mis-throwing idiot who hurled a water bottle at his front wheel during a one-day race in Belgium as a ‘d***head’. That is typical Cav.
Happy families: Cavendish's girlfriend Peta Todd gave birth to their daughter in April
So, too, is his relentless perfectionism.
‘I know every inch of Tarmac,’ he says. ‘Every corner. Every gradient. A lot of guys don’t do that. But it seems logical to me.
'There are so many variables in bike racing. It’s 3D. Imagine every Premier League footballer being on the same pitch at the same time. It’s like that. I minimise the potential problems.’
One conundrum is how Cavendish — the fastest man on two wheels, with his sprinter’s turbo-charged thighs — can retain the green jersey and win the Olympic road race, which takes place on July 28, just six days after the Tour finishes.
He talks of a ‘long July’.
Unquestionably, Olympic glory is his No 1 priority. For example, he has lost half a stone — or as he puts it, ‘changing my entire body shape’, for the unwelcome demands of a road race that includes nine laps of the 1.6-mile climb at Box Hill, Surrey. He snatched a pulsating victory in the test event over the same terrain this spring.
Tour de force: Cavendish is out to retain his green jersey in the Tour de France
So what of the Tour Cavendish is certainly expected to work as a domestique to help his Sky team-mate and friend Bradley Wiggins in his quest to become the first British winner of the world’s most famous cycle race, but whether he rides for the green jersey to the end, with its energy-sapping implications, is a case of suck it and see.
Cavendish’s mind turns back to London — and high-end shopping. ‘When I go from Harrods to my home in Essex, I go along Knightsbridge,’ he adds. ‘That is the last bit of the course to the Mall.
‘I know every piece of street furniture. I can talk you through every corner, every bump, every traffic light you have to dodge. Straight, right, left with two and a bit k to go. Straight up again. Bears right with under a k to go. Bears left on to the Mall with less than 800m to go…’
There will be a few of us straining to watch that last mad dart on Sunday, July 28. Thankfully, there is one man prepared for it like no other on Earth.
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