Mark Cavendish has his Olympic medal so why is he still so moody?

Cycling Track - Men's Omnium Victory Ceremony

It was third time lucky, then, for the endlessly compelling contradiction that is Mark Cavendish. Following two epic days of competition in only his third ever international class omnium, the Isle of Man cyclist finally had the Olympic medal he craved around his neck after bitter disappointment in Beijing and London.

So, obviously, he celebrated by picking a fight with a Brazilian TV reporter who suggested he caused a crash at a key point in the race, jabbing the keepsake ornament that medallists receive at the bamboozled man with the microphone. There was a similar spat with a Dutch journalist.

Before that there had been time to cause a minor social media storm and stoke up a storyline that has been rumbling all week over his jousting with Bradley Wiggins, with whom he has always quarrelled like an older brother.

After Cavendish was left out of the victorious team pursuit quartet that delivered Wiggins his fifth gold, the Manxman suggested he had been frozen out. Now, he said, he was “super happy” for them. Yet even here in his moment of Olympic redemption, as the BBC asked him to hold on a minute before coming to air, he quipped: “You’d be straight on for Brad, wouldn’t you?”

It was pure Cavendish. “Over the course of my years as a professional cyclist I have been accused of many things,” he once wrote. “Bowing to convention, though, is not one of them.”

That was an understatement. Trouble, in direct proportion to his talent, follows him round like a magnet. So it was here in a broiling, bubbling velodrome amid perhaps the best atmosphere yet of a thrilling week.

With 109 laps to go in the 40km points race that provides the thrilling denouement to this six-event test of skill, speed and stamina he was involved in a typical moment of drama.

In a coming together the Korean Park Sang-hoon was sent sprawling, his sunglasses flying, and later taken away on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face as the race carried on around him.

It was a chilling moment amid the frantic action and indisputably Cavendish’s fault. As Park clattered down the boards, he also wiped out the leader and eventual winner, Elia Viviani.

Mark Cavendish takes silver in cycling omnium

Afterwards Cavendish admitted his fault and sent his best to Park and Viviani. Yet as the Italian collapsed into tears after seizing gold, a question mark still hung over Cavendish’s silver.

After cuddling his son Frey, who turns one this week and will be getting his first bike for his birthday, the man who has 30 Tour de France stage wins in his locker was still sweating on the one thing missing from his sock drawer.

But his rivals in this brutal, brilliant 160-lap finale had no issue. “Shit happens,” shrugged the bronze medallist, the Dane Lasse Norman Hansen as he rolled past. So it does. Especially with Cavendish around.

The man who does logic puzzles in his spare time to keep his mind sharp had tactically played the race to perfection. Knowing he was a marked man and Viviani was probably out of reach, he had prodded, probed, defended and attacked to rack up the points required for silver. He insisted afterwards, in his passive aggressive manner, that he had not thought at all about his experiences in Beijing or London. “Why? I wasn’t riding the omnium in either of them.”

But he would not be human if his mind had not at some point strayed back to Beijing, when he went into the madison as favourite and finished ninth as his partner Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and company were lauded.

“I was still somehow the runt of the British cycling litter,” he later mused. But if the Olympics has been less of a priority for him than for other British riders, it is a decision that has paid off in spades. He is, for most, the greatest sprinter of all time.

Four years later he finally had the public recognition his huge talent deserved, winning Sports Personality of the Year after supplying the finish that made him world road cycling champion and brought “Project Rainbow Jersey” to fruition in Copenhagen.

Everything was set up for him to get London’s Olympics off to a winning start on The Mall but his team fluffed their lines and he trailed in 29th. Those Brazilian and Dutch journalists should count themselves lucky – back then he turned on the BBC sports editor for “asking stupid questions”.

Amid the sometimes cloistered, claustrophobic world of British cycling he has always been the man slightly apart, going his own way.

Yet, for all his occasional chippiness, it was a measure of the man that in his moment of triumph he took time to pay generous tribute to all those around him – and in particular the coach Rod Ellingworth– who had taken him from another successful Tour to glory on the track just 28 days later.

On that journey back from Beijing eight years ago he had to borrow Jason Kenny’s silver medal to get upgraded to first class like the rest of the team. He now has one of his own.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Owen Gibson in Rio de Janeiro, for The Guardian on Tuesday 16th August 2016 01.06 Europe/London

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