Mark Cavendish was back to his best at this summer’s Tour de France.
Four stage wins proved that those writing off the ‘Manx Missile’ had done so prematurely. The fastest man on two wheels was once again the centre of the cycling world.
Yet seven days before the start of the Tour, Cavendish had been beaten in a sprint finish by a nomadic professional from Sheffield, who, at the time, did not appreciate the enormity of his achievement.
But as he watched Cavendish swell his overall Tour stage-win tally from 27 to 30 over the following weeks, the sense of personal pride grew in Adam Blythe.
On paper, Blythe, who turned 27 at the start of this month, had no right beating Cavendish to win the British road race title in Stockton-on-Tees in late June.
He had spent his career flitting between the top two divisions of elite cycling, never quite doing enough to convince world tour teams to keep him for the long haul.
Even on the day of the British national championships, Blythe had positioned himself in a four-man break, and when that was swallowed up by a chase group led by Cavendish, his race looked to be run.
But Blythe, feeling strong and sensing his moment, found a second wind and raced back into contention. Not only that, he got on the wheel of Cavendish, drew level with him, outmuscled him, and sprinted past arguably the greatest sprinter in the history of the sport to claim the national title.
“It was certainly good to get that scalp,” says Blythe.
“At the time he was doing all the track training for the Olympics so I just felt he didn’t have the road form, and I was trying to talk it down a bit.
“Then a week later he went to the Tour de France and won four stages... so I must have done something right and must have been going pretty well.”
Blythe’s performance that day helped earn him a debut in the men’s race at the UCI Road World Championships in Doha tomorrow.
He is one of nine men in the Great Britain team – three of whom are from Yorkshire with Rotherham’s Ben Swift and Burley-in-Wharfedale’s Scott Thwaites – with his role being a simple one: help deliver a certain sprinter to the line quicker than anyone – Mark Cavendish.
The irony of the situation is not lost on Blythe, but he is only too happy to help.
Cycling is a sport where individuals take the accolades, but without a strong team behind them they often fall short.
British champion Blythe is a willing domestique. He cites helping reigning world champion and Tinkoff team-mate Peter Sagan win the one-day classic Tour of Flanders in the Spring as being as important an achievement as winning the national jersey.
“My ambition is to help Cav, to do my best for him,” says Blythe.
“That means being there until the last 300-400 metres and deliver him to the line. My job is making sure he’s in the right position.
“You’ve got to be economical, you can’t push too much in the heat of Qatar, at least I can’t because I don’t have the engine. I’m quite sneaky in the way I ride. I think that’s why I’ve been taken because I don’t really need a team to look after me. Cav will, and I can still be there at the finish when he really needs me.”
If the opportunity arises, if his team leader is to fall or falter, does Blythe back himself to do what just Cavendish in 2011 and Tommy Simpson 51 years ago have managed for British cycling?
“If I’m in that situation then of course, it’s the worlds, I have to go for it,” says Blythe, who has been racing with and against his fellow South Yorkshireman Swift since they were six years old.
“If I’m by myself in that situation then 110 per cent I’ll go for it, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
A good showing tomorrow, either in support of Cavendish or for himself, will go a long way to boosting his chances of finding employment next season.
Tinkoff, whom Blythe joined from Orica GreenEdge in the winter, will disband at the end of this year.
Team leaders Sagan and former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador were not short of offers, but with I Am Cycling also folding, Blythe is one of nearly 60 riders looking for a ride next year.
“It’s not ideal but I’m sure I’ll find something,” says Blythe, who after two years with BMC Racing up to the end of 2013, stepped down to British level with NFTO before earning another shot at the elite level with first Orica, and then Tinkoff. “I’m willing to drop back. I’ve just got to make sure I do what’s right for my career.
“On paper, it might look like a drop back but everything is just as hard at that level as it is up there. You still have to do the same work, still have to put out the same watts.
“People know what I can do. It’s not a major problem but the last three years I’ve only had one-year contracts, I’ve never really had a safety net, I’ve always been in a contract year.
“I just wish it was a little bit more relaxed whereby you’ve got two years to get your work done. Fingers-crossed I’ll get something.
“It’s nice having that national jersey on my back. Hopefully, that helps.”