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British coach: Cavendish justifies Rio spot with silver medal

The "Manx Missile" took second in the two-day, six-discipline omnium event on the track.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) — Mark Cavendish justified his controversial Olympic selection by winning a silver medal in Rio, according to British head coach Iain Dyer.

The “Manx Missile” was desperate to be in Rio as he had never won an Olympic medal to go with his huge successes on the track and the road.

Dyer gave him the chance to prove himself and despite finishing only sixth in the track cycling world championships in March, Cavendish was given the nod to take Great Britain’s omnium place in the track cycling competition in Rio.

He came second behind Italian Elia Viviani following a thrilling battle over two days and six disciplines.

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And that came less than a month after Cavendish won four stages in the Tour de France, taking his total to 30 — putting him second only to five-time Tour champion and Belgian legend Eddy Merckx.

Dyer said Cavendish is not “letting up on the road” while at the same time qualifying for the Olympics. “To deliver that sequence of rides over the two days was a fantastic performance,” he declared.

“It justifies our selection for the team, he’s done himself proud. Gold would have been the fairytale, but he can’t be unhappy with his ride.”

Cavendish had wanted to ride in the British team pursuit squad but he did not convince the coaching team at a pre-Games preparation camp in Wales that he deserved to oust any established riders.

‘Click-baited’

Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, and Owain Doull stormed to gold in a world record time. Cavendish’s absence from the team pursuit was not felt.

“Whatever I say now will get click-baited (blown out of proportion) by you guys,” said Cavendish when asked by journalists about not being part of the four-man pursuit squad.

“It’s great the lads won, I’m over the moon for the guys,” said the 31-year-old sprint king. “They’ve been working hard and ultimately they got the world record and the gold medal — I’m super happy for them.”

Cavendish’s time on the Rio track wasn’t without controversy. He smashed into Viviani a third of the way into the final omnium event, the 40-kilometer points race, with South Korean Park Sanghoon suffering burns and bruises in the crash that landed him in the hospital.

“It was my fault, I should have been looking where I was going a bit more,” said Cavendish, right after losing his temper with a Brazilian TV reporter who had asked him about the incident.

“I hope [Park] is alright, really. I apologized to Elia when he went down.”

As part of the omnium, Cavendish rode an individual pursuit, clocking a time of 4:16.878 and coming close to the Olympic record of 4:15.031 Wiggins set in 2008 — the last time it was an Olympic event on its own.

Wiggins’s record time was then beaten by Danish bronze medalist Lasse Norman Hansen.

Before the Games, press reports claimed there was a rift between Cavendish and Wiggins after the former said the 2012 Tour de France winner wanted “to be the hero” at the Olympics, which would prevent him from being part of the pursuit team.

Wiggins said after the team pursuit on Saturday Cavendish “didn’t deliver” when given the chance to come into the pursuit squad during the tests in Wales. He denied, however, there was any problem between the two high-profile British riders.

But although Cavendish seemed to indicate he felt his omnium pursuit time merited a place in the team, he joked about their supposed rift.

“I had to slow down because I didn’t want Brad’s [Olympic] record [because] then these [Daily] Mail guys would be click-baiting that I did it because I didn’t want to be friends with him,” said Cavendish, with a cheeky smile.