Boy Racer: My Journey to Tour de France Record-Breaker

Boy Racer: My Journey to Tour de France Record-Breaker

by Mark Cavendish

No one's faster than Mark Cavendish. Written off as "fat" and "useless" in his youth, Cavendish has since sprinted to the front of the Tour de France peloton to become cycling's brightest star-and its most outspoken.

Boy Racer is a page-turning journey of pure exhilaration-candid, opinionated, and scrupulously honest-chronicling Cavendish's rapid rise from local

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No one's faster than Mark Cavendish. Written off as "fat" and "useless" in his youth, Cavendish has since sprinted to the front of the Tour de France peloton to become cycling's brightest star-and its most outspoken.

Boy Racer is a page-turning journey of pure exhilaration-candid, opinionated, and scrupulously honest-chronicling Cavendish's rapid rise from local hero to National Champion to Tour de France stage winner. Along the way, Cavendish takes us behind the scenes of the Tour de France to unmask the intrigue, the mayhem, the hysteria, and the adrenaline-fueled chaos of professional cycling.

Vivid, unflinching, brilliantly conveyed, Boy Racer will sweep you up in the swirl of the racer's world and deliver you to the finish line with an insider's story from the freshest voice and most agile mind in bike racing.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mouthy former fat kid races bikes, kicks ass, hilarity ensues." — Bicycling magazine

"Boy Racer is an emotional, fast-paced and direct account of Cav's transformation from awkward chubby teenager to world champion and Tour stage winner." — VeloNews magazine

"Like being hard-wired into the brain of the world's fastest sprinter. The closest to finding out what it feels like to be in the midst of a bunch sprint." — Cycle Sport magazine's "Best 50 Cycling Books of All Time"

"Boy Racer is Mark Cavendish's brash, brutal and honest story of his life on the bike, full of the sound and fury of hand-to-hand combat at the finish line. Cavendish holds nothing back." — Sal Ruibal, USA Today

"Boy Racer is without doubt an entertaining read. It feels as though Cavendish is talking directly to you, and he is, as you would expect, brutally honest. Boy Racer then goes at least some way in giving us an insight into the psyche of Cavendish and as a result makes fascinating pre-Tour reading." —

"Boy Racer . . . catch[es] the inner conflict between the impetuousness that makes Cavendish such a daunting competitor and the introspection that makes him such an interesting person." — The Guardian

"Boy Racer is as interesting and as maddening as Mark Cavendish himself. This highly entertaining memoir is a good insight into one jumpy sprinter's brain." —

"Refreshingly frank and entertaining." — Scotland on Sunday

"This is straight from the gut writing…showing a candid view of life in the peloton that most of us never get to see. Love him or hate him, if you're a fan of cycling, Boy Racer will give honest insight into the politics of the peloton." —

"Boy Racer is essentially a masterclass in the art of winning relayed through the eyes of a young, hungry and sometimes impatient embryo superstar with a penchant for entertaining industrial language. It is also highly personal and revelatory and gives you a unique insight to one of Britain's most successful and respected sportsmen worldwide." — Daily Telegraph

"Boy Racer is a fascinating ride to the top of professional cycling from humble beginnings. The book totally changed my perspective on Cavendish, and will do the same (for better or for worse) for any cycling fan that sits down and gives Boy Racer a chance. Cavendish's true personality shines through every one of the 352 pages." —

"Boy Racer not only supplies a kind of autobiography of Cav's early years, but also gives the reader a glimpse into life on the Tour de France at a level very different from superstars like Lance Armstrong. Cav offers excruciating detail of what it means to work at the back of the field just trying to hang on above the time cut-off; or taking on some mountain climbs that certainly do not favor the sprinters.  There's a kind of wonderment, sincerity, and even naïveté to the writing, informed by the knowledge that nothing is ever given in sports or in life." —

"Few have brought the terrifying and visceral art of sprinting to life. Boy Racer redresses the balance." — The Times

"This book surprises and inspires with outspoken views, insider insights and a life story to date full of fantastic highs and devastating lows. With the 2008 Tour de France as a backdrop, Cavendish takes us on a whirlwind tour of his life so far, a meteoric rise from young Isle of Man ‘scally' to double World Champion track star. Along the way we learn of his apprenticeship with the GB track development team, getting taken on by the infamous T-Mobile squad (now Columbia-Highroad), and winning the Milan-San-Remo classic. Inspiring reading. . . ." —

"Offers a unique account of the world's fastest sprinter." —

"I have read a large number of sporting autobiographies in my time; some very good, many distinctly mediocre. This might just be the best one I have ever read.
"The book reads in much the same way the man himself conducts himself in interviews: He shoots from the hip with his heart on his sleeve, occasionally inserting foot in mouth. But anyone who has ever seen Cav speak would expect no less; in a PC, PR-conscious world, here is a sportsman who is as brutally honest as he is fast. At times it is painfully obvious who he does and does not respect in the cycling world, and yet he is surprisingly self-critical, self-effacing, and not afraid to admit when he has been proven wrong about someone. The book is full of little insights into the mindset of a master practitioner and behind-the-scenes revelations of what it is like to be a professional road cyclist, which make this a cut above the average sporting autobiography. Add this to the fleshing out of a personality far more complex, meticulous, and magnanimous (to his team) than the one-dimensional cocky narcissist sometimes portrayed in the media, and what you have here is a compelling tale that had me tearing through the pages much like the man himself does when he has the sniff of the finish line in his nostrils.
"Boy Racer was unputdownable. I'll be first in line to buy the next chapter of the story of this incredible young man." —

"Love the man or hate him, you won't find much in Boy Racer to change your mind. It's pure Cav—honest, outspoken, occasionally aggressive, imbued throughout with that trademark self-confidence you already find either charming or annoying. Even if you're not a fan, this kind of peek into the peloton makes the book well worth reading. But if (like me) you do harbor a certain fondness for the Manx Express, chances are you'll tear through this book with sheer delight and find yourself quoting bits of it for weeks to come." —

"Can a youngster obsessed with barging his way through several other bicycle missiles in a 70kph scrabble string more than a couple of words together? Happily, the answer to that one is a resounding yes. This is an exceptionally well-written book; well constructed, never tedious, well paced, and above all else, highly interesting. From the give a sprinter an even break point of view, it ill behooves any of us to criticize until we know the full story, or at least the full story to date, and Boy Racer provides us with all the ammunition we need.
"There won't be any difficulty getting to [the final page]; probably more of a problem putting it down in between. Quite a surprisingly good book."

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Read an Excerpt

From Boy Racer, Chapter 5:

The most important ten seconds of my life. The next ten . . .

When most people think of a Tour de France sprint, the words and images that flash into their heads probably have something to do with speed, noise, color, danger, or adrenalin. But I don’t think of any of that, at least not when I’m winning. I think of the silence.

You know those moments in sports films when the striker’s through on goal, or the wide receiver’s galloping into the end zone, watching the ball over his shoulder, or the baseball leaves the pitcher’s hand — and the music and crowd noise suddenly stop and the film starts running in slow motion? Well, you may think those scenes are a cliché, but that’s actually what it’s like. In those moments, the speed, the noise, the color, the danger, the adrenaline — none of that matters. It’s just you, the bike, the finish line, and . . . the silence.

How can you have silence when you also have tens of thousands of fans screaming on either side of the road? It’s a good question, and not one I can answer; at every other time in the Tour de France, the crowd and its noise are the tailwind that whips you along faster than at any race in the season. In those final few hundred meters, though, you notice the noise no more than you notice the air; maybe that’s why, if silence is what it sounds and looks like, you feel as if you’re riding through a vacuum.

I’d seen Thor Hushovd’s lead-out man, Mark Renshaw, surge level with my right shoulder. I’d seen Hushovd on Renshaw’s wheel. I’d swung left, across and past my teammate, Gerald Ciolek. I’d trampled all over the pedals.

For the first time, 300 meters away, at the end of that vacuum, I had an unobstructed view of the finish line. Almost. Incredibly, just as he and his two breakaway companions were about to be swept up under the kilometer-to-go banner, the Frenchman Nicolas Vogondy had somehow located a few last droplets of energy and burst clear again. He hugged the barriers on the right-hand side, sheltered from the crowd, hidden in the shadows, clutching at the last available straws.

For a cyclist, “form” is probably a more mythologized state of physical euphoria than for any other sportsman, but, for me, there are two, maybe three seconds in every sprint finish when “form” doesn’t matter. My “kick” is the fastest in cycling whether I’m on a good day or not; all that form changes is how long I can stay at top speed.

On this day, two beats of the pedals were enough to make me certain I couldn’t lose.

My kick had taken me level with Hushovd. Usually, as long as you’re sprinting parallel to another sprinter, you keep accelerating in case they surge again. Sense, rather than see, them slipping back and you know they’re gone for good.

Now, Hushovd was slipping.

My right side was clear . . . except for Vogondy, who could hear me coming like a death rattle. On my left there was nothing. A vacuum.

I could hear one voice. My own. There were no more of those decisions to make, no more wheels to follow, no more risks to run — just me, a hundred meters of open road, the finish line, and a hundred photographers waiting to capture the moment.


Come on, Cav. It’s coming, come on, it’s coming, it’s coming . . . fifty, forty, thirty, twenty . . . don’t let them back in . . . just a few more revs . . . it’s coming . . . one more effort . . . fifteen . . . yes, it is . . . ten . . . Oh my God!

Oh my God. Oh . . . my . . . God.

Five meters short of the line, I released my hands from the bars and brought them to rest on my helmet. Oh my God, I’d done it.

My front wheel sliced through the finish line. And the silence ended. First came the noise, then the emotion. Six million volts of emotion — like an electric shock. For the last half of the race, throughout those last fifty kilometers, I hadn’t entertained a single emotion, didn’t give a second’s consideration for anything beyond what my body was doing and what it was going to do next. I was in the zone. Crossing the line was like turning on the power switch.

One of the first faces I saw when I crossed the line was Bob Stapleton’s; his was always one of the first faces I saw when I crossed the line. Our team owner could have been sipping champagne in the hospitality area, which you’d think was the most natural place for a billionaire businessman to be. But no, Bob was always there, in the middle of the stampede of journalists, photographers, and soigneurs — inconspicuous, reserved, but as quietly delighted and excited as anyone. In age, demeanor, occupation, Bob and I couldn’t be more different, but we get on because we have one vital thing in common: passion.

I felt the Spaniard Oscar Freire give me a congratulatory pat, then the great German sprinter Erik Zabel. But now my emotions were running wild. I just wanted to see my teammates. Where were my teammates? I had to see my teammates.

Almost to a man, they’d crossed the line with arms aloft in jubilation. Now, one by one, they fought their way through the scrum to find me, hug me, and shout words that may have seemed incoherent at the time but which, in fifty years’ time, I’ll still remember. I later found out that Gerald Ciolek had hurt himself so much in the effort to launch me in the final kilometer that he’d had to go for a ride to warm down.

In a matter of seconds, chaos had broken out — a chaos that I’d helped to create by turning around and heading into the oncoming current of 180 riders, sucking the crown of pressmen with me. Several of those 180, like David Millar, were happy for me; most were too preoccupied with their own fight for survival and the fight to muscle through to their team bus. One was furious — furious to have to battle through this crush, and furious at the result; thus Filippo “Playboy” Pozzato celebrated my first Tour de France stage win by reaching down for his water bottle and hurling it at a journalist.

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