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Cavendish finally gets Olympic cycling medal

2016-08-16 08:51
Mark Cavendish (Getty Images)

Rio de Janeiro - Mark Cavendish has triumphed in 30 stages of the Tour de France, won road racing's world title and captured dozens of other important races to become one of Britain's most successful cyclists.

The one thing missing was an Olympic medal.

The sprinter from the Isle of Man finally accomplished that feat on Monday night, taking silver in the men's omnium behind Italian rider Elia Viviani at the Rio de Janeiro Games.

"I'm happy with it. I couldn't have done more," Cavendish said. "I made every day count. On another day I might be closer to gold, but I have to be happy."

Especially the way things have gone in previous trips to the Olympics.

Cavendish and teammate Bradley Wiggins were the reigning Madison world champions when they headed to the Beijing Games in 2008.

But in the event, no longer part of the Olympic program, the duo could do no better than ninth, leaving Cavendish the only British track cyclist without a medal.

Four years ago, he headed to the London Games backed by a powerhouse road team to tackle a course that suited him perfectly - he even won a test event on it. But on race day, the British squad missed the key breakaway and Cavendish wound up 29th, reduced to being a footnote in the race report.

So in that context, silver isn't such a bad result.

"It's always disappointing not to win," Cavendish said, "But I did all I could. And the guys behind me did all they could. So yeah, I'm happy."

His performance was impressive by any measure: Not only did Cavendish nearly overcome Viviani in the last event of the six-event omnium, he also held off reigning Olympic champion Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark, who had to settle for the bronze medal.

But perhaps making it more impressive was the fact that Cavendish squeezed in training for the omnium while continuing his successful road career.

When other riders would take a break from the grind of professional cycling, he would hop on a jet to compete in a track cycling World Cup event, then hop right back on a plane to rejoin his Dimension Data at the next big race.

Cavendish's performance never faltered on the road, either.

In fact, the sprinting specialist earned the yellow jersey in the Tour de France after winning the opening stage, then won three more stages to stamp his mark on the sport's biggest race.

But Cavendish said all along that one of his priorities this season was that elusive Olympic medal, so he found himself abandoning the Tour in the final week to transition to the track.

The past few weeks, he had been fiercely focused on succeeding inside the velodrome.

"I think gold would have been a fairytale but I don't think you can be unhappy with his ride," British cycling coach Iain Dyer said. "It's not easy gig by any stretch of the imagination but I think he's done himself proud here and I hope in the hours and days he will appreciate it."

His effort in the six-race omnium was hardly without flaws.

The biggest may have come in the elimination race, one of his better events, where he appeared to let up before the line and was knocked out by the Brazilian rider. Cavendish knew immediately how costly those lost points would be, slamming his palm on his handlebars during his cool-down lap.

More trouble occurred in the points race on Monday night, when Cavendish failed to see a South Korean rider next to him.

Cavendish swerved down the banking of the track and collided with him, sending not only the Korean rider to the ground but also causing a pileup that caused Viviani to crash.

Cavendish accepted the blame for the crash, but it ultimately didn't affect his standing.

The bigger problem for Cavendish in the points race, where points are earned for intermediate sprints and bonus points are given for lapping the field, was that Viviani was marking him the entire time.

Cavendish could never make a move to overcome his Italian rival.

Still, he walked away from the Rio Games with the medal he so long desired, the glaring hole in his otherwise imperious resume finally filled - even if it was filled with silver rather than gold.

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