Mark Cavendish says he plans to retire from cycling by the end of the year. But after watching the Netflix documentary Mark Cavendish: Never Enough, you’re left to wonder if the 38-year-old British road racer will eventually change his mind.
He has returned from a long layoff before with astounding results. Cavendish is best known for battling back from depression and the Epstein-Barr virus to tie the all-time record with 34 Tour de France stage wins in 2021. That’s a remarkable achievement under the best of circumstances. Cavendish did so after considerable doubt that he would ever be a world-class sprinter again.
As his trainer Vasilis Anastopoulos said: “In cycling, you never know what can happen. There are a lot of crashes. A lot of unexpected situations.”
Never Enough, directed by Alex Kiehl, opens up with footage of Cavendish as a child being interviewed in the 1990s on television after a race. He has been in the spotlight for most of his life. He secured his first four Tour de France stage victories in 2008 and has been a recognizable figure in the world’s most famous bike race. Through it all, he has been considered abrasive, especially with the media. In the documentary, even Anastopoulos describes him as having the “reputation of an a******.”
In Never Enough, Cavendish clearly appreciates Anastopoulos’ frankness. The new trainer was exactly what he needed after setbacks threatened to end his career and prevent him from reaching Eddy Merckx’s Tour de France record of 34 stage victories. The hardest thing for a professional athlete to do is to walk away from the sport he/she/they love. When you spend your entire life crafting a singular skill, who are you when it’s all over?
Athletes, like the rest of us, don’t always get to leave their jobs on their terms. Cavendish faced his sports mortality after a series of crashes and an unexpected diagnosis. The Epstein-Barr virus is common, with one of the main symptoms being fatigue. For most people, that’s at best an annoyance and at worst a quality-of-life-changer. For an endurance competitor, it can be a career-ender. Cavendish was forced to take a leave of absence and struggled to regain his form.
Cavendish candidly speaks in Never Enough about how this led to an eating disorder and clinical depression. His wife and mother of children, Peta, also talks openly about the strain it put on the family. One doctor said: “I think there’s a high risk that you harm yourself, or even that you commit suicide.”
While honesty helps make this film work, one thing missing is a journalist to put Cavendish’s life and career in the proper context. No one is asking probing questions or digging deeper. Perhaps his distrust of the media played a role. The only person close to a neutral observer is Lance Armstrong who appears in clips, seemingly providing analysis on a podcast or radio show. For several reasons, including Armstrong’s notorious history with the Tour de France, that’s just awkward.
However, if you ignore the shortcomings, Never Enough is captivating because everyone loves a comeback story. The documentary walks the viewer through Cavendish’s humbling journey to Merckx’s record. It’s a storybook moment because—for reasons that Never Enough goes into depth about—he wasn’t even supposed to be in the 2021 Tour de France.
When Cavendish finally ties the record, seeing his tears of joy and hearing the cheers from his family makes Never Enough a must-watch.