Mark Cavendish might be able to walk down the street in New Delhi without being recognized, but slip him into the athlete’s village at the Commonwealth Games and he gets mobbed.
Cavendish was the center of attraction upon his arrival in Delhi for Sunday’s road race at the Commonwealth Games. Scores of athletes were crowding around cycling’s star rider for photographs and autographs.
“The Belize team was going nuts to see Cav in the athlete’s village,” said Isle of Man coach Gary Hinds. “It’s great that he’s racing the Commonwealth Games. He doesn’t need to lower himself to this level, but he doesn’t want to let the team down.”
Cav’s appearance in Delhi is adding some star power to the men’s road race Sunday on a 13.7km course that’s tailor-made for his finishing kick. Cavendish won gold on the scratch at the boards at the 2006 Commonwealth Games when he was still a relative unknown.
Flash forward four years and Cavendish is among cycling’s biggest stars. His decision to race in Delhi when many of professional peers took a pass on the chaotic conditions of India is kicking up the buzz factor.
“It’s great Mark is racing here,” said Isle of Man teammate Christopher Whorrall. “We’ll kill ourselves to set up the sprint so Mark has a chance to win.”
Cavendish is hoping to end his up-and-down 2010 season with victory in the 160km road race. He added five stages at the Tour de France to resume, but did not win the green jersey and was not in contention for the rainbow jersey at the world championships last week.
Cavendish postponed his post-season vacation by a week to compete in the Commonwealth Games.
The Commonwealth Games is one of the few chances Cavendish can race under the Isle of Man banner. In all other major international competition, the small island of 80,000 people returns to its status as part of Great Britain.
Other big names racing on Sunday include David Millar, making his debut for Scotland, South Africa’s Robbie Hunter, New Zealand’s Hayden Roulston and Allan Davis and a strong Australia squad that includes three-time track gold medalist Cameron Meyer.
“I don’t think I will be winning anything on the road, but I hope to use my track legs to try to get into a breakaway,” said Meyer, who struck gold in points, scratch and the team pursuit. “We have Davis here and he’s coming off third in the worlds. With Cav racing, he knows he has his work cut out for him.”
The women compete in the morning with eight laps on the 13.7km circuit while the men race 12. Nicole Cooke, racing for her native Wales, will be the favorite for victory.
All of central Delhi will be closed down for the road race, making the already chaotic India even crazier.