Rio 2016: Where does an Olympic medal rank in Mark Cavendish's illustrious career?

The Manxman has enjoyed a stellar career but one honour continued to elude him. That, however, all changed in Rio de Janeiro this week when he claimed his elusive Olympic medal in the men's omnium.

Rio 2016: Where does an Olympic medal rank in Mark Cavendish's illustrious career?
Mark Cavendish claimed his first Olympic medal with silver in the omnium at Rio 2016. (Image: Reuters)

Mark Cavendish has enjoyed a stellar career; a four-time world champion, Commonwealth champion, won 30 Tour de France stages, led and won the points classification at all three of the Grand Tours as well as scooping various awards for track and road cycling events around the world.

But one honour continued to elude him. That, however, all changed in Rio de Janeiro this week when Cavendish claimed his elusive Olympic medal as he won silver in the men's omnium.

Third time lucky for Cavendish

Cavendish is now into his 11th year as a professional cyclist, having turned professional in 2005, but this year there was more to the Manx Missile's usual cluster of ambitions than in previous years. This year the 31-year-old set his sights on wearing the maillot jaune at the Tour de France, win stages, win a medal at an Olympic Games and possible second world champion glory in Qatar in September.

It is the Olympics that provide the most intrigue given the unfinished business Cavendish has at the Games as he hoped Rio would be the case of third time lucky. Beijing and London both ended in a frustrating anticlimax, on the track in 2008 and on the road in 2012. In 2008 it was the track on which he hoped to first taste Olympic glory. He and teammate Sir Bradley Wiggins fell short in the Madison, finishing ninth. 

After returning from Beijing in 2008, the only member of the track team not to win a medal. Cavendish admitted that he was "finished" with track racing and set his sights on a gold medal on the road in London. However, Cavendish's hopes for an Olympic medal were dashed once more. Everything was set up for him to get London 2012 off to a winning start on The Mall and claim his elusive Olympic medal, but the world's greatest sprinter, the pre-race favourite, was too far adrift to deliver his trademark burst, finishing in 29th place.

Mark Cavendish has added an Olympic silver medal to his impressive palmares. | Photo: Reuters
Mark Cavendish has added an Olympic silver medal to his impressive palmares. | Photo: Reuters

Eight years on from Beijing and having focused solely on the road ever since, Cavendish returned to the track to claim his elusive Olympic medal in Rio. The Manxman found himself juggling twin ambitions for the coming season having returned with the intention of not only racing on the track, but winning there too. He was understandably disappointed not to be selected for the men's team pursuit as the event offered a surer prospect of a podium place, whereas the six-discipline omnium is something of a lottery.

However, Cavendish delivered and his wait for an Olympic medal was over as he won a silver medal in the omnium in Rio. He held off the charge of Denmark's Lasse Norman Hansen in a dramatic points race - the last of the six events - as Italy's Elia Viviani took gold with a final points tally of 207, with Cavendish finishing with 194 and Hansen 192.

Where does an Olympic medal rank in his illustrious career?

Olympic silver in Rio means Cavendish has now won virtually everything there is for a sprinter to win in his illustrious career. He is considered by many to be the greatest in the history of road racing, a place which was arguably cemented at this year's Tour de France, where he won four stages to take his total of career victories to 30 in the famous race, eclipsing all but Eddy Merckx.

Impressive as that total is it represents only part of Cavendish's career successes, with the Manxman also having claimed world championships on road and track, a Commonwealth gold medal, wins in the points classification at all three Grand Tours and the Milan-San Remo classic among many other victories. Yet despite all his extraordinary achievements on both the track and road, Olympic success has been a box he has been desperate to tick. A lot of importance is attached to Olympic success in Great Britain and is for many athletes career defining, but this is certainly not the case for Cavendish.

The Manxman has now won virtually everything that is within his physical realm and more and he was never going to be remembered for the British cyclist that never won an Olympic medal. Instead, he would be remembered for being arguably the greatest sprinter of all time and his other successes on the road and track. In terms of where it ranks in his illustrious career, an Olympic medal is always going to be one of the biggest moments of an athlete's career, whether they are a cyclist, a gymnast or a swimmer.

Cavendish wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career at this year's Tour de France. | Photo: Reuters
Cavendish wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career at this year's Tour de France. | Photo: Reuters

The Olympics is not actually the pinnacle of road cycling. The three Grand Tours (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana) are what every rider targets whether this is just competing in one, winning a stage or winning one of the famous jersey's. Cavendish has enjoyed an unprecedented amount of success at Grand Tours; he has led each one, won the points classification at all three and won a total of 48 individual Grand Tour stages.

Success on the road in London 2012 would have certainly been memorable and, if he had won a gold medal in Rio in addition to wearing the yellow jersey (a feat which he achieved for the first time earlier this summer along with four stage victories) and then went on to win a second road World Championship title in Qatar in September, this may have been a defining season in his illustrious career.

The silver medal in the omnium is no mean feat and completes Cavendish's very impressive palmares, but silver is definitely not career defining on its own, especially considering Cavendish’s stellar career.