Brian Holm vs Mark Cavendish (part 2)

Brian Holm: If you could change something in cycling, what would it be? Anything: courses, motorbikes, points system, commissaires? Any complaints? There is a big difference between commissaires, eh? It is a tough job, but somebody could do a little bit better. 

Mark Cavendish: You have to factor motorbikes into tactics and strategies for a race. For instance, you have to get to a certain point of a climb before you are dropped. If a protagonist is dropped, the motorbikes come back to see it. You can get back on with a motor-paced peloton.

If you drop earlier, even 500 metres before, you never come back.

That is the thing. Most races, especially a TT, they come with an iPad, screening for motors. They are screening the same bike, maybe nine times. In Danish, we used to call it ‘symbolic politics’, just to show you are doing something. Meanwhile, half of the bunch is sitting behind motorbikes. 

Once I did a race, we had a breakaway with [Petr] Vakoč. He was chased down five metres before the finish. I had complained many times to the commissaire about the motorbikes ahead of the peloton. He answered: “Ah, but Brian, keep in mind they also had motorbikes in front of the breakaway.” 

Is that cycling? You really have to calculate the motorbikes too? I think that is wrong. When everyone is talking about motor doping, that is the real motor doping. I don’t think there is even a rule about how close they can go. 

Brian Holm

It’s the lack of understanding about cycling. I think everybody who has any involvement in the race should have to do a sit-down written test. Even the cyclists. You should have to do practical and theory exams, you know?

Most pros don’t even know how to balance a bike anymore. Okay, we can’t all be Peter Sagan. But I am betting that 80 per cent of the guys don’t know how to balance the weight distribution of the bike. It’s like driving a car or motorbike. You have to know what is going to happen when you pull each brake.

Even a simple question like this: if you have an empty bidon and you throw it in a tunnel, is it:

a) going to implode

b) going to explode

c) or bounce back into the peloton and cause a crash?

There’s one guy, [Mark] Renshaw calls him ‘The Magician’. He just throws the bidons anywhere, and they will bounce back in. It is a lack of common sense.

But how many times are we telling the guys don’t drop your bottles or litter? When you see some people, drop it off, or drop it at the car. In modern cycling, we can’t throw plastic bidons. It is hard to get people to do it.

Imagine – well, ten years is a long time – what will you be doing seven or eight years from now?

I might still be riding, probably just be stopping then. You asked me a few weeks ago and I said I don’t know. But I’ll probably still be riding. 

I was thinking about the next Olympics. 

The Madision is back, isn’t it? I want to ride with G [Geraint Thomas]. Pete Kennaugh could be good as well. 

Mark Cavendish 

What about eight years then?

I want to run a team.

Can we hear about it?

No, not much.

Just a little…

My dream is to have a team. I learned a lot from the teams I have been with, and you know that, although I don’t ride for Quick Step, I am still really close with Patrick [Lefevere] and learned a lot from him. For him to have a team for such a long time shows what a good businessman he is, and he tells you straight down the line – I think that is the thing I appreciate about him most. He doesn’t play games. I want my own team. Simple as that. 

That is interesting. When you stop as a rider, you are sort of trying to pick up all the best things from your old bosses. I probably mentioned [Walter] Godefroot a few times to you…

Too many times.

I can imagine! An old-fashioned guy. 

It’s all right when you quote him, but not when you try and be him. You’re not Walter Godefroot.

 I know. He was the Steve McQueen of cycling, without knowing. He was a tough cookie. So, you will actually stay in cycling?

It might even be a track team, I don’t know. We’ll have to see how many people I piss off.

What is your biggest regret? Is there something you would do different?

I wish I knew what I know now, about trusting people. I feel I have been too loyal sometimes. It is not regret – I don’t regret anything – but I wish I had known then what I know now. 

So less faith in people? Are we talking about managers – hopefully not sports directors… colleagues?

Just people in general.

I find it quite nice, you know, when people have faith. Sometimes you just get disappointed in life, eh? That is a part of it, isn’t it? And you learn.

Mark Cavendish

So, tell me something. I would like to know your all-time best cyclist ever. And you can’t mention the best cyclist ever. And you can’t mention yourself, just so you know.

Best guy I ever rode with was George [Hincapie], on and off the bike.

He is on my list also. Captain America. 

He could do everything on the bike, and would do everything – loyal to the death – and always with a smile. He really looks after people like he’s your dad, or your uncle. 

Remember when he was waiting for you coming down the Poggio? [in Milan-Sanremo]

The only rider ever to purposely lose positions on the Poggio. No one has ever done that. Absolute legend.

And when you won that Tour stage in 2009, I still wonder how you did that [Brian makes the ‘call me’ sign]. I still wonder, in a full bunch sprint, how do you do that stuff? 

You know the story behind that? HTC came on board as sponsor and brought us all these phones. They were about to launch the HTC Hero, which was before Apple ever did a unibody design – a cut aluminium block. For me, it was an icon of technical design.

I like my gadgets and I was made up when they came in as sponsor. Jason, who worked as team liaison, gave us these phones and I said, mate, is there any chance you can get me a Hero? 

He said they weren’t out yet. So I replied, tomorrow I am going to win. And I am going to do something that, I guarantee, you will give me a phone after. They sent me the phone.

I am not sure what you could do with Quick Step… But to pull that off. That was something special. We had the mistral wind. We knew it would happen sooner or later, I remember speaking to Bjarne Riis and he said we are fine, then suddenly you guys [HTC] went in the crosswind.

Bert Grabsch was riding on his own, no one would help, and we were riding, then George said let’s sit back and save some energy. We had literally just moved back, then saw this sharp right. He shouted let’s go, sprinted up the outside. Mick Rogers said let’s go. Nothing was planned. 

But to go 60 or 70km an hour then pull off a stunt like that was quite something. That was a jolly good moment.

Mark Cavendish

The worst day ever? I think we will come up with the same answer. I remember who won the stage that day [in 2009]. You probably lost the green jersey to Hushovd. The big crash. George missed the yellow jersey by six seconds. You remember?

We were trying to wait to sprint, because we didn’t want to take any time back on the front. I was on the barriers and Thor tried to come through. The barriers kinked, there was a protest and I got relegated.

Okay, we couldn’t complain, the commissaires make the decision, but we actually lost the yellow jersey by those few seconds.

And I lost the green jersey by two points.

The best Tour win?

Well, they are all special. It was nice wearing the yellow jersey finally. 

Utah Beach? [stage 1, 2016] Usually it takes you five or six stages.

I won the first sprint in 2009 – but normally it takes me a few goes. I had won 26 stages by then and not worn the yellow jersey. 

Best place for training? 

I live in the Isle of Man and Tuscany – best two places in the world for riding a bike. Love it. Isle of Man makes you hard. It rains, heavy roads, windy, you have to like cycling. Most of the guys that live and grew up there are angry little fuckers, like Pete Kennaugh. You grow up having to be like that.

And then Tuscany’s got everything. Mountains, coastline, small hills in Chianti, pan flat if you want, good food, good coffee. It’s perfect.

In Danish, they say when you are from an island, you are a bit weird. Is that the same in English? Did I miss anything?

Rouleur: I want to know how you first met, when you first met and what you made of each other?

I was a stagiaire, [2006] Tour of Britain, Glasgow. Brian came up to me – I was getting fitted up for a bike – I think it was [Matthias] Kessler’s bike – and he was like “You haven’t got your own bike? They are just setting you up now, the day before?” I was like, all right mate…

And he was giving me shit, weren’t you? Trying to crack me all week. I was going well. 

The first day there was a breakaway and we were chasing, I was trying to get to the front, and he comes on the radio: “Listen you fat little fuck, when I tell you to fucking ride, you fucking ride. Get to the front!” Klöden had stopped… 

I was quite pissed with Klöden and Kessler. I told them I wouldn’t pay their aeroplane; they had to go home by train.

So we had to pull, and pull and pull, we didn’t catch the break but I still won the bunch sprint. And he comes up and was like: “That was quite good today, wasn’t it?” 

Oh, hang on… I saw you at the Saxon Tour a couple of weeks before that. I was getting dropped and the T-Mobile car comes past. He is doing his Walter Godefroot impression, just looks at me and carries on driving, and I was riding for them the next week!

I remember that Tour of Britain, one day it was pissing with rain. I went down early because I was going for a run, and you were already at breakfast. Most riders hate that end of the season rain. He was sitting there a bit grumpy. I said, wow, it’s raining today. It could be a long day, eh? How are you doing in the rain? “I’m good”.

No, you just said it’s raining. I just went [shrugs]

And then you think he will either have a very short career or a very long one, because he is confident. When they are young, sometimes they are so confident that within one year they lose their heads. You never know.

I told Cav: Don’t have too much respect for those guys, because they are always trying to put you down – the big superstars, Boonen, Pozzato, those guys. Do what you have to do. 

Mark Cavendish, Brian Holm

I remember talking to Mick Rogers a few days after Cav arrived, he said to me: Brian, you have to talk to him. He is crazy, yeah? Fucking crazy. Tell him to calm down.

I said, Cav, I told you don’t have too much respect, but also have a little bit as well…. 

To say that somebody is going to be a superstar after one or two years is too easy. Sometimes you think it, then after two years they are gone. Like we said at the start, it is one thing to reach the top, but another to stay there. And that is the biggest challenge. Too much money, too little motivation, and they are gone. It takes a great man to stay at the top. Now, ten years in a row, he is still stepping up at the Tour.

Rouleur: And did you still get to be best man at the wedding?

Yes. It took him a while to realise that we don’t do anything to hurt him. Like with kids, it is mostly for your own good. It just takes him a while to realise. You agree? 

What the fuck are you on about? 

Shop now