One can easily draw strong parallels between the journeys Mark Cavendish and the Amgen Tour of California have lived. Both were born to professional cycling in the mid-2000s, as the British sprinter now riding for Team Dimension Data became a stagiaire with T-Mobile Team at the end of the year 2006, only a few months after the German squad was one of the eight UCI ProTour teams to participate in the inaugural edition of the Amgen Tour of California. Ever since, America’s main race has steadily risen as one of cycling’s biggest event worldwide while Mark Cavendish became one of the greatest ever to pedal for glory.
“I have been very successful in California”, Mark Cavendish smiles, with 10 stage victories to his name at the Amgen Tour of California (only Peter Sagan bests him with 16 wins) and two victories in the Sprints classification (2009, 2015). Four times winner at Sacramento (2010, 2014, 2015, 2016), the Manx missile couldn’t improve his Californian record in 2017 as he was sidelined with mononucleosis.
“It’s been a pretty smooth winter”, Mark Cavendish now explains. “I deserved a little bit of smoothness after last year [he also crashed out of the Tour de France, where he was eyeing Eddy Merckx record of 34 stage wins]. And now I’m looking for victories.” The quest will naturally take him to California (13-19 May), where he’ll tackle the second part of his season. “Before, I’ll enjoy my Spring break, after Paris-Roubaix to participate in the Commonwealth Games”, he states.
Since his first participation, in 2008, the Manx Missile has seen the Amgen Tour of California climb up to the World Tour level, bringing to America the best of the men’s peloton as well as the top female cyclists with the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race (17-19 May). “It’s great to see the race grow”, Mark Cavendish acknowledges. “I think what the organisers do is great to showcase the state of California.”
The Manxman makes no mystery he “prefer(s) it when the race goes down South - the weather is better”. Although the Sun usually graces the Amgen Tour of California with its stellar presence, the Cav’ has known harsher times: “I remember doing it when it was in February, it was freezing”, he laughs. But anyway, “California is a beautiful state. I’ve spent time there on holiday. It’s great that the best riders of the world are over there, racing on America’s roads.”
As the Amgen Tour of California moved from February to May, it offered different experiences to the riders - gathering a star-studded peloton every year to challenge the likes of Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. The Cav’ himself stepped outside of his usual role in 2016, when he made it to the break on the way to Laguna Seca Raceway. “We’re going down Pacific Coast highway - oh, Pacific Coast highway!”, he remembers. “That’s a hard road. It was a nice day out.”
For the Manxman, the change of dates also meant spending a few of his birthdays (May 21st) in California, although he never found success on this special day: “Every time I’m racing on my birthday, it’s the hardest stage of the race! Every time! I’ve never ever had the chance to do a sprint on my birthday.” No worries this time, the 2018 Amgen Tour of California finishes a couple days before Mark Cavendish’s 33rd birthday. He may very well be celebrating new successes on this occasion.
Benoît Vittek, for the Amgen Tour of California