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By Ben Delaney
Long before he was winning Tour de France stages, Mark Cavendish was formed into a professional cyclist by British Cycling’s Rod Ellingworth. As research for the current cover story on Cavendish, VeloNews interviewed Ellingworth.
Mark Cavendish credits British Cycling coach Rod Ellingworth with kick-starting his career. Ellingworth created an innovative youth cycling program in 2004 to nurture under-23 talent into the stars of the future.
Cavendish, who wouldn’t have been selected by British Cycling’s traditional standards, impressed Ellingworth with his tenacity, confidence and speed. The pair worked together intensively for two years, and still keep in touch now as Cavendish’s career continues to rocket upwards.
“He put a lot of time into me in the first year,” Cavendish said. “In 15 months I went from being a 78kg bank cashier to being a world champion. I give him all the credit. He gave me structure in my life. It’s just progressed from there.”
VeloNews interviewed Ellingworth ahead of the 2009 Tour de France, where Cavendish is widely expected to win multiple stages.
VeloNews: When did you first met Cav?
Rod Ellingworth: I met him when he was 17, during a few sessions at the Manchester track. I didn’t think too much at the time, but he had something about him. The raw speed was always there. His attitude was pretty good. I think a lot of people thought he was a bit of a wild boy. But you put him on the track and he was always up for it.
VN: Where did it go from there?
RE: That same year I ended up getting a group of 25 of the best young bike riders in the country. U23, juniors and youth. I put them in three-day race program. Mark was a junior. He didn’t sort of show in terms of the cycling there. But what he did do was come to me, and say that it was the best weekend of cycling he had had, and could he be involved again. Of the 25, he was the only one to do so. To me, that was someone who was quite confident in himself. From that point I started following what he was doing. You could see he was definitely improving all the time.
When he was a junior, he didn’t get many opportunities. Mainly because
British cycling at the point was so heavily dependent on ergo tests, and power outputs and all this sort of stuff. For me, that doesn’t always work.
I’m not a sports scientist at all. Because of him, I was so determined to change the way in which British Cycling selected people. Unfortunately for Mark, He never caught that chance to go to junior worlds. Yet he was British champion at this and that.
VN: When did you start the Cycling Academy?
RE: When I formulated the academy program in 2004, Mark applied. We did a matrix to help us select riders. We did an interview process. We did interviews with parents. We looked at their raw power, all the scientific background stuff. We looked at basic race instincts and results. And we looked at attitude. Then head room, in terms of potential. He was fast, and he was severely overweight. You thought, if he could get the weight down, what else could you get from him.
He scored quite well on this matrix. A lot of it was just gut feeling. Out of 25 young guys, he was the only one to say thanks after that 3-day race weekend. In the interview he was quite sure what he wanted to do. He was always sure he was right and others were wrong.
He always does have a point. He doesn’t always convey it correctly, but he always does have a point.
VN: What did you focus on with Mark?
RE: He had a massive ambition to be successful. I knew straight away what we needed to work on. He would always get himself to races. From the Isle of Man they have a three-hour boat journey just to get on the mainland in England. It’s one of the worst seas in the world for ferry crossings, actually. He would get on there as a foot passenger, get on a train in Liverpool, then travel to wherever he needed to go for the race. Something always went wrong. Something would happen with his bike, or he missed the train, or he’d turn up and would have forgotten his shoes. There was always something. So I said to him, if you put all that right, what would you get?
He said, “you’d get results because I’m fast.” With Mark, even when he was a young lad, if you just listen to him, the answers are all there.
That’s all we did. I said I don’t give two shits about your cycling. I know you want to do cycling. That’s a given. What isn’t given is your organization. He didn’t know how to organize himself properly. I just worked on his discipline. Not just on him. The whole group. I was pretty ruthless to them.
For the complete story on Cavendish’s formative cycling years, including more insight from Ellingworth, pick up the August issue of VeloNews, on stands now.