Michael Pavitt

The Tour de France has had an extraordinary opening week.

A stunning opening-day victory for France’s world champion Julian Alaphilippe got the ball rolling, before Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel achieved what his grandfather Raymond Poulidor could not be earning the yellow jersey.

Defending champion Tadej Pogačar looks imperious and en route to a second Tour triumph in little over 10 months, as the Slovenian took charge of the overall race as his rivals suffered with injuries sustained in crashes.

Amid all the storylines from the race - including the on-off legal situation concerning the spectator who caused a stage-one crash - one has probably resonated more than others.

Mark Cavendish’s first stage win of this year’s race provoked an outpouring of emotion on social media and beyond. The reaction almost matched that of the Manxman himself in his post-race interview.

"I don’t know what to say," Cavendish said, holding to hold back tears. "Just being here is special enough, I didn’t think I would ever get to come back to this race.

"So many people didn’t believe in me but these guys [Deceuninck-QuickStep] do.

"I never ever want bad things to happen to other people but after the last years it's just nice to have some good luck."

After the wave of emotion broadcast on television in the post-race interview and immediately after the stage victory when Cavendish sat on the road in tears, the 36-year-old expressed that he hoped his story could be a message to others not to give up.

Many have drawn the comparison to last October, when Cavendish tearfully suggested after Gent-Wevelgem that the race may have been the final one of an illustrious career.

He had struggled for form and results since being diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus in 2017, which prompted questions over whether he would secure a contract for the 2021 season when his deal with Bahrain McLaren ended.

The upturn since he re-joined Deceuninck–QuickStep at the start of the year has been as welcome as it was unexpected, with four wins at the Tour of Turkey and a success at the Tour of Belgium having led to talk of a Tour de France return.

Sam Bennett’s knee injury and fallout with team bosses contributed to the opportunity.

Ex-professional cyclist and former team mate David Millar offered the opinion on British broadcaster ITV that the reaction to Cavendish’s victory had been due to the Briton becoming more relatable.

"He has become relatable, whereas before nobody could relate with Mark Cavendish," Millar said on ITV’s Tour de France podcast. "He just lived on a different planet.

"The decline and fall of an athlete, everyone can relate to that struggle.

"He does this win and everyone is like, 'I think I can relate to you now'. People can now see what you are."

Sir Andy Murray has arguably never been more relatable to a supportive British crowd ©Getty Images
Sir Andy Murray has arguably never been more relatable to a supportive British crowd ©Getty Images

The point made by Millar is a good one.

Fans of the sport could certainly watch on in admiration as Cavendish stormed to successive stages wins almost every year over a decade ago. They would not have been able to relate to the achievements.

The public certainly will not if he does match or break Belgian great Eddy Merckx's record of 34 Tour de France stage wins. Something the Briton insists he is not targeting, despite moving two away from the milestone with a second victory on Thursday (July 1).

The same can be said now when watching the extraordinary efforts of the likes of Pogačar, as he swept aside his main rivals on yesterday’s stage. Fans at home would likely have felt more in common with the Danish cyclist Søren Kragh Andersen, who appeared to watch on in admiration as Pogačar overtook him with ease when dropping back from a breakaway.

Away from cycling, I would argue that sports fans can arguably relate to the likes of Roger Federer and Sir Andy Murray now than more than any point of their careers.

The support for Murray at Wimbledon previously centred around the desire to see a British winner of the tournament. His return from a career-threatening injury, documented in the Resurfacing film, has made Murray feel far more human than at any other point.

Murray's first two wins of this year's tournament were celebrated by many, while we can understand the frustration he had at his third-round loss. Murray's mind still seems intent on returning to the top of his game, but his body might not allow this yet.

Similarly, we have been spoiled with Federer gliding across the court at the All-England Club throughout the past 20 years, with the Swiss looking mostly unruffled and untroubled as he recorded one win after another.

Federer yesterday joked about waking up stiff in the morning as he competes in his last Grand Slam event before turning 40 next month, which I am sure many people have encountered at some point in their lives.

Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios also spoke this week about how he may be more relatable to the mere mortals who watch, compared to the sport's pantheon of greats.

"Not everyone can be a Federer or Novak Djokovic," said Kyrgios. "They inspire millions of people, they're just gods.

"You have to have some people, I believe, that are relatable, that people can bring other fans to watch, people who are just normal.

"I feel like I'm one of those people.

"Not everyone can be a Federer, a Djokovic or a [Rafael] Nadal.

"I'm Nick Kyrgios, I know who I am, I just don't put that much pressure on myself any more.

"I'm okay with not winning Grand Slams."

Nick Kyrgios suggested he was more relatable for fans than the greats of the sport ©Getty Images
Nick Kyrgios suggested he was more relatable for fans than the greats of the sport ©Getty Images

Understandably there will be people who will be frustrated by Kyrgios' statement, as he is likely to leave the sport wondering what he could have achieved given the ability he has.

Yet Kyrgios does have a point, as many would be able to identify with carefree approach he has to the sport which feels more about enjoyment than the relentless pursuit of titles.

It is worth considering ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this month, as the term Olympian is bestowed on the latest group of athletes, albeit a year late.

The god-like connotations of the word Olympian have reportedly led to some athletes feeling as though they do not belong at the event, due to being a "normal person".

Marnie McBean, the triple Olympic rowing champion and Chef de Mission for Team Canada at Tokyo 2020, recently told insidethegames that in fact those who feel do not belong at the Games are exactly the people who do.