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Tour de France

Tour de France: Isle of Man hopes Mark Cavendish’s success will inspire next generation

Mark Cavendish's return to winning ways at the Tour de France has been remarkable and it could have a big impact on the sport in his native Isle of Man.

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Mark Cavendish may not have broken Eddy Merckx’s record, but his Tour de France comeback has no less remarkable.

The Manxman’s haul of four stage wins – and a green jersey – to put him on the precipice of a history-making ride has got plenty of people excited, not least in his native Isle of Man.

The buzz around Cavendish’s 2021 Tour de France performances on his home island has been unprecedented – even in his heyday – and it is hoped that his latest success can inspire the next generation of Manx talent.

Also read: Mark Cavendish’s first coach: ‘I had seen a lot of youngsters, just never seen one like him’

“The wealth of top-class cyclists we have from the Isle of Man and the number of riders at the higher level and riding on the continent and doing well is just amazing,” Dot Tilbury told VeloNews.

“What an experience in life. Even if they never make it, they have that experience of racing on the continent against top-class competition. Who knows that will happen? It’s all in the mix and let’s hope we can get some future stars.”

Tilbury played a part in Cavendish’s formative years in cycling, as she has done with many riders from the Isle of Man. She is a well-known name within the Manx cycling scene for her dogged work to help young riders gain experience and pursue their dream.

Tilbury organizes a weekly crit league at the Isle of Man’s national sports center, which has been the starting point for some of the island’s biggest cycling stars – including Cavendish, Peter Kennaugh, Matthew Bostock, Lizzie Holden, Mark Christian, and Anna Christian. She was awarded an MBE for her services to cycling in 2006.

The league, which takes place on a closed road around the sports center’s (NSC) outdoor facilities, has provided a safe space for children up to the age of 16 to race and fall in love with the sport. Indeed, it is where I nurtured my early passion for cycling in the late 90s and early 00s. It also supports young riders in traveling off the island to take part in events in the UK and Ireland.

Also read: What Mark Cavendish and gear experts say about his chain coming off

From its start in 1992, the league has grown immeasurably — thanks largely to the success of Cavendish and Kennaugh — with a regular weekly turnout of about 300 riders and overall membership more than twice that.

“It has been immense. When I went down to help in those early days and there were 14 children coming down aged between 5 and 16 and we had to try to organize races for the age group,” Tilbury said. “I think, by the end of the second summer we had 39 and we thought we’d made it because we had 39.

“Then, this young man called Mark Cavendish came down and Peter Kennaugh came down for a while and of course. Peter won the Olympic gold and Mark won the world championships and it just skyrocketed. I believe we were probably the biggest children’s cycling club in the world without a shadow of a doubt.”

Mark Cavendish mania hits the Isle of Man

Wave for the camera. About 150 people turned out for the Mark Cavendish parade ride
Wave for the camera. About 150 people turned out for the Mark Cavendish parade ride Photo: Sadhbh O’Shea

After initially being overlooked for a place on Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Tour de France squad, Cavendish’s run of four stage wins, the green jersey and record-breaking bid have gripped the Isle of Man public.

There have been calls for a statue of the “Manx Missile” and for a cycling trail to be renamed Cavendish Way. There have even been some serious talks of building an outdoor velodrome, which would be a huge boost to the island’s young cycling hopefuls.

Also read: From Mathieu van der Poel to Mont Ventoux: The five moments that made the 2021 Tour de France

It is not the first time that there has been an attempt to get the Isle of Man its own track and a previous attempt to build one failed to gain enough support. Currently, Manx riders have to travel to Manchester, in the UK, to get a taste of track riding – which can become very expensive without additional support.

If this bid to build a track was successful, it could be one of Cavendish’s most impactful legacies on the Isle of Man.

The young riders that have already been so inspired by Cavendish to pick up the sport turned out en masse for a parade ride Sunday ahead of the Manxman’s attempt to win a record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage.

Fans watch the final Tour de France stage on a big screen in the Isle of Man
Fans watch the final Tour de France stage on a big screen in the Isle of Man Photo: Peter O’Shea

About 150 people turned out for the ride, which started where Cavendish’s cycling career did – at the NSC. The parade ride headed out from the site with a police escort and rode the two miles to a fan park, which had been set up for fans to watch the final stage of the Tour de France.

“This is where he got on the drops bike and made his name and made his mark. It was the start of something big for the Isle of Man because cycling has become a very popular sport over here now. It’s just great that he’s doing so well,” said Tilbury.

“It’s two years that Mark was in the doldrums and to come back from that is amazing and many a person would have given up. But what a comeback and there’s bound to be an increase in interest.”

While Cavendish was outgunned by Wout van Aert on the Champs-Elysées, he wrapped up what was a hugely impressive Tour de France campaign and one that could have a wider impact on the Isle of Man and its growing cycling scene.