By Jo Pugh •
Published: 26 Jul 2023 • 10:27
Cycling And Depression: Tour De France Legend Mark Cavendish Opens Up In Netflix documentary. Credit: Pitch Productions
A new Netflix documentary about Mark Cavendish, one of the greatest sprint cyclists in history, delves into the athlete’s years of depression between his Tour de France stage wins.
Mark Cavendish:Never Enough, records the highs and lows of the cyclist’s career.
Between 2008 and 2016, he won 30 stages of the Tour de France, an incredible number that put him within touching distance of Belgian cyclist Eddie Merckx’s 1975 record of 34 stage wins. Merckx is the most successful rider in the history of the tour to date.
His close call to reaching 34 stages came crashing down in the 2017 Tour de France, when Cavendish was forced into the barriers at 70 km/h by reigning World Champion Peter Sagan.
Cavendish’s disappointment was added to with a diagnosis of Epstein–Barr virus, a common issue for endurance athletes which can turn into chronic fatigue if not treated effectively.
As Cavendish prepared for a comeback in the 2018 tour, it became clear the virus was affecting him deeply.
Any hopes for a full return were then scattered when he crashed dramatically into a bollard at the Milan–San Remo race in 2018. His injuries, coupled with his increasing fatigue, saw him finish outside the time limit.
“You don’t go from being the best in the world, to really not even capable of…” Cavendish pondered in the documentary, which was highlighted on Euro News. “How? How? How has it happened?”undefined
While that may be Cavendish’s question, the one that the Netflix documentary director Alex Kiehl asked was far bigger. What happens to the mental health of a man who only ever valued success when he can no longer achieve it?
Kiehl digs into Cavendish’s psyche as he falls into a deep depression over a four-year period without a win.
“What really drew me to this story was what happens when your identity, the thing that you’ve worked at, breaks down,” Kiehl explains. As they filmed, the pair built up a trust, exposing the depths of the cyclist’s growing depression.
He starts creating a rift between him and his wife, Peta Todd. Friends were concerned that he might even take his own life.
“Mark is an incredibly interesting person,” Kiehl says. On the one hand, he’s a logical operator, able to extract superhuman performances from his body to great success. “But he’s also an incredibly emotional person which I found quite unusual.”
Peta is the key to rebuilding a breaking marriage. As Cavendish falls deeper into his depression, she candidly discusses the strain on their marriage.
Eventually, lockdown brings a reprieve to the couple, letting Cavendish spend time away from the limelight, and his family comes into focus again. It’s only then that Cavendish starts gaining control over his life.
In 2021, after four years without a win, he chalked up four more stage wins at the Tour de France, putting him even with Merckx’s record.
Yet even with the final note of success, Kiehl’s documentary is always keenly aware that the highs of winning will only take you so far from the daily realities of mental ill-health.
After his final win of 2021, the camera lingers on Cavendish as he stares into the distance. “It just sums up so much about Mark. This constant pressure and desire. Can it ever be satisfied?”
This year, Cavendish crashed after touching wheels during the eighth stage of the Tour de France with a suspected broken collarbone, potentially ending his career on a low. He announced in June that this season would be his last.
Kiehl spoke to him a few days after the crash.
“He was very disappointed,” he said. “But, he’s also really upbeat and positive.”
The documentary will be released on Netflix on Wednesday, August 2.
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Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.
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