HTC-Columbia pulls Cavendish from Romandie.

Cavendish sits down.

Latest crazy Cavendish race gesture: a wave goodbye.

The enlightened leadership at the HTC-COlumbia team decided to pull Mark Cavendish out of the Tour of Romandie after his obscene gesture at the end of stage two. They blew out the fuse on the dynamite just in time.

This is in no way a knock on Mark Cavendish. It’s been a tough year so far and the pressure to duplicate last years successes would be difficult for anyone to handle. He’s immensely talented, he trains hard, he’s funny, he loves the sport. It’s just clear he’s overwhelmed and ready to crack and HTC did everyone a favor with a timeout. He might not understand, but they’re taking good care of him.

It’s like pulling a good pitcher when they’re in a bad patch and losing confidence. Cavendish needs a moment to breathe, step back, gather himself and get his mouth under control. The wins will come but the damage control had to happen. Rock stars go crazy and do bad things. They trash hotels, light small animals on fire, play with loaded guns.

In today’s saturated sports media culture, it’s rare that a team makes a call like HTC-COlumbia. It would have been easy to leave him in, not piss off the superstar cash cow. Sponsors like wins and Cavendish was coming into form fast. There are millions on the line and the Manxman usually gets there first. So it says plenty about integrity and higher standards and the longer view when Columbia took him out.

The last few months have been a PR nightmare for Cavendish and the HTC-Columbia team. An ugly and bitter public feud with the second fastest sprinter and teammate Andre Griepel. A dental disaster that put him months behind schedule. Cavendish seemed angry with everyone from riders to journalists and interviews like the recent one with the Guardian were pissy and confrontational. A spiral and the direction was straight down.

It’s also far too easy to criticize a young man who blasted into stardom so fast and furious. He’s still growing into the role. He’s a showman but doesn’t’ always know where the lines are drawn, when it’s best to shut the yap, when it’s time to end an argument. Cut the man some slack. He ain’t Tiger Woods, Kobie Bryant, Riccardo Ricco or the superstar jerk of your choice.

Cavendish was obviously contrite. You ever try contrite? Not an easy emotional stance to pull off for a young man. Grudging apology, that’s easy, official “I’m Really Sorry” press release written for you by pr guy, also easy. But Mark Cavendish seemed to have realized (or owner Bob Stapleton slapped him good) that he’d made a massive boo-boo. Even Andre Greipel felt a little sorry for him.

Some chronological perspective: Mark Cavendish is 24 years old — say that slowly so it sinks in. ┬áHis judgment hasn’t caught up to his blazing speed; the fast twitch muscles lodged in his tongue have caused huge problems.

He’s not, to use one of his favorite words, an arse. He’s just a guy that can pedal a bike faster than anyone after 175 kilometers with a dozen other fast, aggressive men trying to slam him into the barriers. His role is not nice guy who comes in 75th.

Mark is an engaging and amusing guy, he wants to have freakin’ fun, he doesn’t want to be politically correct, he just wants to live his wild and crazy life without self censoring whatever thought that shoots out his mouth. Admit that we’d like that life and would probably mess up a few times. Stick a microphone in front of us 24/7 and most of us would be thrown out of society by now.

Where is George, is the real question. When Big George Hincapie left HTC-COlumbia for BMC, Cavendish lost the voice of reason and a calming influence, a mature guy who knew how to handle the press. Hincapie was couch and therapist for the Manxman. (The free Hincapie sportswear was a nice bonus, too.) Hincapie has a well-earned reputation as one of the nicest guys in the peloton. The father figure left town and took his compression wear with him.

Yes, Cavendish lost his cool and yes he crossed the line. Bob Stapleton and the management at HTC-Columbia are to be commended for their quick action. The first person to thank them should be Mark Cavendish.

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  • JotaP

    Great post. Not sure that Cav is truly contrite, since I don't believe he's capable of deep introspection – or even willing to go there – but you did a great job w/ the commentary.

  • Machaca

    Great post, Matt. At 24 I hadn’t even figured out how to talk to my wife without a major mistake every other day, let alone deal with the press/public during a moment of great emotion.

  • I really used to hate Mark – particularly after all those stage wins last year at the TDF. He was loud, obnoxious, self-centered and disrespectful. I wanted anyone but him to win.

    And then Team Sky came along. And instead of there just being one sprinter on a team with a big mouth and ego to match, we suddenly had a whole team like that. Suddenly, The ManxMan was one of the few riders who could and would stand up to the arrogance and disrespect of Team Sky.

    Good decision by Bob to pull him – we need him come July to silence those riders in blue and black.

    • Dane, you might be on to something. Mouth versus Sky, an epic battle. Tyler Farrar is enjoying this one. Thanks for writing in.