The Manx Missile on scooter-chasing, healthy diet perils and the benefits of drinking vodka and soda.
Look beyond Bradley Wiggins donning a yellow jersey, and you’ll see that this year’s Tour de France was already a fresh chapter in British sporting history, as Mark Cavendish, Wiggins’ Team Sky colleague, became the event’s most successful sprinter of all time. ShortList caught up with the 27-year-old Manx Missile to ask what makes him so fast.
Where do you train?
In Tuscany. The weather’s good, there are a lot of mountains with short, sharp climbs and the food’s great. They live and breathe cycling there, so the roads are safer to train on.
Do you perform any special drills?
Riding as part of a peloton sucks you along at high speed, so I replicate this with motor-pacing, where someone rides in front of me on a scooter, putting me straight in a slip stream.
Do you have any impressive on-bike gadgetry?
An SRM monitor on my handlebars, which gives power readings to tell me what energy I have and how long I can sustain it for. It takes power from the force I put through the cranks.
You race up a lot of mountains. Have you ever tried altitude tents?
I don’t like them – they’re actually illegal in Italy. As a sprint cyclist, I don’t see the need for much altitude training.
What’s the secret to improving your sprinting?
In most Tour de France stages, the sprint kicks in between 200m and 300m, so I try to finish every practice ride with a sprint around 350m before the finish line. Sprinting over a longer distance saps my energy, but it teaches my body to go that bit longer, in case I ever have to in a race.
Any advice for starting a race?
Pace yourself. Most people get on their bike and go hard from the word go – even some professionals do it. It’s a sport where durability is key, and you have to worry more about your own energy than your opponents’.
Do you work on your calf muscles in the gym?
I don’t go to the gym. I get the workout I need on the bike. The only exercise I do away from my bike is stretching – I never used to stretch, but the older I get the more my body is torn into weird shapes. Other cyclists have their own workouts; the Scandinavian guys go cross-country skiing in the winter.
What body part hurts most during training?
My lower back. When riding a lot of climbs, the way you’re positioned on the bike for hours makes your glutes and lower back hurt. A massage soothes it, but it can be painful.
Wiggins famously enjoys a vodka tonic. Do you have a health-conscious cocktail of choice?
I only drink alcohol for five weeks a year, in my off-season. When I drink, I go for a vodka and soda, the purest drink you can get. It doesn’t give you a headache or heavy legs the next day.
How much do you have to eat before a race?
We burn 7,000 calories in some Tour de France stages. Our bodies have been primed to cope, and that involves eating a lot 24 hours before the race. Right before a race I just have two bowls of Special K. Aside from energy gels and fluids, I then won’t have anything until dinner. We used to have steak for dinner, but the trainers discovered our bodies can’t absorb steak for energy the day before a race.
That must’ve been devastating…
It really was. It gets quite long on a three-week tour with just chicken and fish [laughs].
Cav: Born To Race is out now on DVD
(Image: Rex Features)