Something heartening and life affirming to write about for once. Mark Cavendish, our star sprinter who is made a name for himself for basically being an ill-tempered, foul mouthed twerp, or as one fellow journalist said recently, a “petulant child,” has been spotted helping someone fix a puncture.
The exact details are sketchy but it appears that Cav, still glowing from his Tour of Qatar win, was driving along with wife Peta Todd on Valentine’s Day when he saw cyclist Fran Cutts struggling at the side of the road in the process of failing to mend a puncture. In a flash he’d pulled over and offered his assistance. You wouldn’t get that sort of service from the RAC.
Some might consider this a “so what” moment, like who wouldn’t help a damsel in distress with a flat tyre?
But that doesn’t distract from it being a really nice thing to do, and he didn’t have to stop. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve wished I didn’t.
Like the time I was on an evening blast last summer, loving my pace and sure I was smashing through a few Strava segments when there’s this kid at the side of the road. I say kid, he must have been about 18 so as I was sailing past I asked casually if he was alright, as you do, to be polite, and he said: “No.”
No. Who says that? No one says no. Everyone just gives a little nod and says thanks for asking and continues battling with whatever innertube-based drama they are experiencing. Because it is the English way. “No don’t worry about me, I’ll be perfectly fine here all night.”
But this kid clearly hadn’t been schooled in the way of etiquette yet so I reluctantly screeched to a halt to ask him what was the matter.
“My tyre keeps going down,” he says, standing there with an inner tube in his hand. It turns out not only is he lacking in etiquette, he also has never been told how to fix a puncture. He’s on his third inner tube now and hasn’t even checked to see if whatever caused the flat in the first place has been removed.
I take a look at his tyre and can see the problem instantly. It’s not one puncture but dozens, little flints glitter in the fast-fading sunlight. The tyre itself is more or less devoid of rubber, the thread showing through in patches. The racer I used to ride to middle school in the seventies had better tyres. In fact those tyres he was using probably dated back that far.
It was a temptation, upon seeing this crass lack of basic bike maintenance, to just clear off and leave him sitting there. But my sense of honour wouldn’t allow it, so I took out my spare tube, said “you know how to fix a puncture don’t you?” and lobbed it at him. Then I cleared off. I had a Strava time to beat.
Just to make sure he would not still be there on my return journey I decided to tack a few more miles onto my route and sure enough when I zipped past on the way home there was no sign of him.
That is why I think the fact Cav actually helped that lady with her tyre was a nice thing to do, although I will point out that he wasn’t riding his bike at the time and therefore the Strava dilemma and the fact that the light was fading wouldn’t have been a factor. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t have stopped had he been on a training ride, just that he might have thought twice.
I am of course in the wrong, I know that, and there are more than likely many of you who if you hadn’t already decided to desert me to look for similar cycling sentimentality in the Telegraph will do so now (there isn’t anything by the way) but I feel I should offer you my point of view and it is this:
I am self sufficient. Save a disaster like a snapped fork or something I am more or less confident I can bodge my bike in such a way as to get home, and if I can’t, I’ll call a cab. In fact I might just do that anyway. I also would not dare to impose on another cyclist. Oh, the shame of it, especially if I had a threadbare tyre and an unroadworthy bike and not a clue how to fix it. Just call your sodding Dad. Punish him for not teaching you the fundamentals of cycling by forcing him to drive from wherever to pick you up. While Eastenders is on!
So aside from being the greatest sprinter in the world (I think that’s still the case), Cav is actually a better person than me. Frankly I find this amazing considering he can be a grumpy shite at times and I’ve witnessed that with my own eyes.
But the evidence is there before me. Faced with someone in distress at the roadside he didn’t lob an inner tube at them. He stopped and put her tyre back on. I’d never have done anything of the sort.
Sorry teenage cyclist chap, but next time you get a puncture, you’d best hope Cav’s around.
This column first appeared on www.thetimes.co.uk/onyourbike on Friday February 19 2016