Mark Cavendish hailed a landmark night for British cycling after winning the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award at a star-studded ceremony in Salford.
The Isle of Man rider, who pipped golfer Darren Clarke and athlete Mo Farah, achieved the two huge goals he set for himself in 2011, becoming the first Briton to win the green jersey in the Tour de France and then clinching gold in the road race at the World Championships.
Cavendish joined Tommy Simpson, the previous Briton to win the road world title in 1965, and triple Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy as the only cyclists to pick up the award, which is voted for by the public. The 26-year-old fought back tears on stage as he said: “This is a landmark in cycling, and I take this on behalf of cycling.”
And it was what his victory said about the huge growth in interest in cycling in recent years that most pleased Cavendish.
Cavendish, who took his record to 20 stage wins from four Tour de Frances in the summer, added: “For cycling to be recognised in a non-Olympic year, a few years ago would be unheard of, yet it’s happened. That’s what makes this special.
“With cycling, as with any sport, what you put in is what you get out. It’s down to you. I can’t control how people react to what I’ve achieved and that makes it the biggest honour possible for me.
“There are more people riding bikes now who can actually appreciate what it is. It’s not just the Tour de France, we’re racing 100 days a year and people know what it is to ride such distances in such times now and what it takes. It makes me smile every time I see a family out on their bikes, every time I see a child wanting to ride.”
Cavendish went into the evening as the favourite to lift the award and it was no surprise his closest rival was Clarke, an emotional Open Championship winner in July five years after the death of his wife Heather from breast cancer.