This Tour de France Stage Winner’s Remarkable Comeback Reveals a Brutal Truth About Success

Mark Cavendish has won the second-most Tour de France stages in history. He’s won stages of all three grand tours. He’s won several one-day classics. 

If you aren’t familiar with the sport, Cavendish is like the Randy Moss of road cycling.

Even so, time comes for all of us. Now 36, Cavendish hadn’t won a race since 2018 as the combination of the Epstein-Barr virus and clinical depression disrupted his career. At the end of 2020, he asked Deceuninck-Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere if he could rejoin the team he left in 2015. 

He came to my office,” Lefevere says, “and said, ‘I don’t want to stop like this. I want to come back.’ I told him, ‘Mark I really don’t have one Euro. My budget is already done.'” 

So Cavendish asked, if he could find a third party to underwrite his contract, whether he could then join the team. While Lefevere agreed, he felt certain no one would. 

“But, a week later, someone called,” Lefevere says, “and said they had spoken to Mark and were interested, … and it happened.”

Even so, being on the team didn’t mean Cavendish would ride in the Tour de France. Only eight riders from each team can compete. Plus, Deceunink-QuickStep boasted the most recent winner of the Tour de France’s green jersey, Sam Bennett.

But then Bennett got injured. Cavendish was called up at the last minute to ride the Tour.

And then on Tuesday he won stage 4. And two days later, he won stage 6.

As of this writing, his stage win total now stands at 34, two away from Eddy Merckx’s all-time record.

Which sounds like a feel-good story.

And, as with almost all feel-good stories, for a long time was not. 

Epstein-Barr sapped his energy and turned even the simplest task into a major effort. (As Cavendish recalls, “Not being able to walk up stairs without going to sleep.”) Even as worked to regain fitness and form he missed chunks of seasons as the symptoms eased, then returned.

Depression crept in. Along with crashes, injuries, and even more downtime.

“I was kind of lost in the wilderness, trying to find a way I could get back to knowing who I was again,” he says. In fact, he came close to quitting. After Gent-Wevelgem, a tearful Cavendish told the media they may have seen his last bike race. 

That’s when he reached out to Lefevere. 

“I had the belief I could (win another Tour stage), but I didn’t have the belief I would, if that makes sense,” Cavendish says. “You don’t sign for Deceuninck-QuickStep with Sam Bennett in the team with two Tour stages and the green jersey (from 2020) thinking you’re getting to the Tour de France. I literally signed with this team because I knew these were the happiest days of my career and I just wanted to be in a happy environment.”

In short, Cavendish knew that no one does anything worthwhile on their own. No matter how talented, skilled, and experienced you may be — much less if you find yourself on the downside of advantage — success requires surrounding yourself with other talented, skilled, and experienced people.

No matter how skilled your individual parts, the sum of a collective of parts is always greater. 

“I just needed someone who understands racing,” Cavendish says, “and that was Patrick Lefevere, the team, my wife, people at home close to me.”

What you need are people who understand your dreams. Understand your goals. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Understand how to help and support you — and know that you will help and support them in return.

The people closest to you are the people you chose: They are in your professional or personal life because you let them.

Because successful people attract successful people. Because hardworking people attract hardworking people. Because kind people attract kind people.

Because great employees want to work for great bosses.

If the people around you are the people you want to be around you… then you’ll successful.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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