Cavendish: I was under Armstrong's spell
Mark Cavendish has revealed how he struck up an "instant rapport" with Lance Armstrong, who had him "under his spell" - and insists he has no anger towards the disgraced cyclist for doping.
Cavendish first met Armstrong at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas in September 2008. A year later on the Tour de France, Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs to claim a third-placed finish while Cavendish won six stages.
And in excerpts from his new autobiography At Speed, being serialised in the Telegraph, Cavendish details how he was starstruck by Armstrong's presence.
"We had instantly struck up a rapport. There was something mesmeric about Lance," says Cavendish.
"His eyes were like strobe lights, burning through you. He inserted your name into every sentence, paid attention to everything you did, remembered everything that you said. It was hard, as a 23-year-old who had watched him win seven Tour de France titles, goggle-eyed, not to be impressed or at least intrigued.
"When I'd bought an expensive watch, or a sports car, I'd get a text from Lance: 'Cav! Don't waste your money on watches! What did I tell you? Save it. Be smart with it.' Perhaps I was under his spell, but when it came to giving me advice he appeared both genuine and generous.
"I was well aware of the doping rumours that had swirled around Lance, but never dwelled on them: firstly because I hadn't been competing against him between 1999 and 2005; and, secondly, I had gathered from riders who had competed in that era that doping had been widespread if not endemic.
"In 2009 and even on the eve of the 2010 Tour, when the Wall Street Journal published allegations aimed at Lance by his old team-mate Floyd Landis, I'd paid very little attention to the low, slow drumroll of controversy.
"Now, though, the idea that Lance had doped to ride that 2009 Tour in which I'd won six stages switched something in me. If the suffering that we sometimes endure in races is hard to convey to the ordinary punter, it's even more difficult to describe the bitterness of knowing the pain was made even worse by other riders cheating.
"Even though I was watching those Tours that Lance won, I also can't pretend that I'm eaten up with resentment or feel betrayed now I know it was a big charade.
"Objectively, even Lance's biggest detractors will have to admit that the race to expose him at times resembled a witch-hunt. I will certainly never be persuaded that riders who confessed their own doping and gave evidence against Lance in return for meagre, six-month bans were truly brought to justice."
Cavendish has also dismissed the UCI's planned new truth and reconciliation commission as futile. Armstrong this week told Cycling News he would be "happy to talk" to the commission providing it is widespread in its scope, but Cavendish believes it would be detrimental to the sport.
"The problem is getting people to open up about their past when there's no incentive," adds Cavendish. "[The commission] sounds like a nice idea but it's not going to work. Why? One word: ego. Even now, when they've retired and there's no threat of sanctions or public humiliation, riders cling to their careers because that's what their identity has been constructed on. They're terrified of losing it all.
"So what do we do with the skeletons in cycling's closet? Mine might not be a popular view, but sometimes I wonder why we insist on rattling them around and whether the time hasn't come to simply concentrate on the present. To me, it's gone far beyond the point where the soul-searching has become useful to the sport."
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