Review: Boy Racer; My Journey to Tour de France Record Breaker, by Mark Cavendish

Cocky. Arrogant. Just plain fast. Call him what you will, Mark Cavendish is one of the greatest sprinters of our time. Known in the cycling world for his explosive sprint, and perhaps even more for his explosive comments, Cav’s television and print interviews burst with self-confidence, which have earned him his fair share of criticisms for his confident attitude the past couple years.

Now, the 24-year-old cycling phenomenon gets a chance to clear the air, in his new autobiography titled Boy Racer; My Journey to Tour de France Record Breaker, where he addresses his often controversial personality while taking us on a fascinating ride to the top of professional cycling from his humble beginnings as a child on the Isle of Man.

Written off as “fat and useless” as a child, Cavendish developed a drive as a teenager that he still carries with him today, craving admiration, adoration, and what he calls “having sunshine blown up my arse.”

In true Cavendish fashion, he doesn’t shy away from controversial comments in the new book, as he chronicles his career every step of the way, from his first amateur races, to his time at the British Cycling Academy, all the way to his standout 2009 season with the Columbia-HTC team. Cav seems to remember, in painstaking detail, those who doubted or discouraged him on his road to the top, and isn’t afraid to share what he thinks of them, calling out many of the coaches, teammates, and rivals he has encountered throughout the years, making for a fascinating, although one-sided behind the scenes look at the life of a pro bike racer.

However, the book isn’t all controversy and drama, and Cav actually offers some interesting insight into his biggest career wins and losses. From the thrill of victory at Milan San-Remo to his regret over pulling out of the Tour de France in 2009, there were several times where I really felt connected to Cavendish, as if he were recapping his career with an old friend, putting us inside his head for every major sprint victory of his career.

Cav also makes some interesting points about his distaste for sports science. In a sport obsessed with power meters, V02 tests, and lactic thresholds, Cavendish says none of those things can explain or capture his speed on the road, and he prefers not to waste his time with them if he can help it. Cavendish is notorious for returning “less than professional” numbers in lab tests and it was pretty interesting to read about a man who, in a sport obsessed with power data and lab numbers, still has that boyhood drive to just go fast.

The book even moves into his personal life, talking about his parent’s divorce as a child and his relationship with his now ex-fiancée Melissa Phillips. Phillips shows up several times throughout the book, which was obviously written during happier times for the couple, who split just this year, making for some awkward moments where Cav talks about the “love of his life” and their future plans.

While Boy Racer will mostly appeal to cycling fans, Velo Press seems to have tried to make it appealing to a wider audience, peppering the book with explanations of basic cycling terms and concepts as they come up, making it readable for those outside the cycling world; a good thing, because Cav actually has a pretty interesting story to tell, and an interesting way to tell it.

It’s an easy read, and a fascinating look inside the head of the world’s fastest sprinter. 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. No matter how well you thought you knew Cav from his many TV interviews, Boy Racer has some fantastic, unique insights into the Manx Missile’s life, career, and personality.

Boy Racer is available now in paperback from VeloPress for $21.95, or Amazon for $14.93.

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