Mark Cavendish won his 34th stage of the Tour de France yesterday, equalling the all-time record held by Belgian cycling legend, Eddy Merckx, since 1975.
This is Cavendishâ€™s 4th stage win at this yearâ€™s Tour de France. A Tour which, he was not expected to ride in until last month when his Deceuninckâ€“Quick-Step teammate, Sam Bennett was forced to pull out following a knee injury.
In an interview following his first stage win of this yearâ€™s Tour, Cavendish said “So many people didnâ€™t believe in me and these guys do. And they did.
“I thought I was never coming back to this race, honestly. When you come to Deceuninckâ€“QuickStep youâ€™ve got the best riders in the world, so it wasnâ€™t even a thought to come here.â€ť
The 36 year-old Manxman is widely credited as the greatest sprinter of all time. However, his career had stalled in recent years due to a combination of different factors including injury and team politics. Last December, he re-signed for Deceuninckâ€“Quick-Step, which itself is the successor to Omega-Pharma-Quickstep, where he previously had so much success. In 2013, he won the Giro Dâ€™Italia points classification with them and the National Road Race Championships.
As part of the so-called Wolfpack, Cavendish rides with Julian Allaphillipe, the current World Champion, Kasper Asgreen, Danish champion, former World TT Champion, Tony Martin and Michael MĂ¸rkĂ¸v, former Danish champion, who is widely credited as being the Worldâ€™s greatest lead out rider. MĂ¸rkĂ¸v placed second in todayâ€™s stage rankings following a lengthy 220km stage in the heat, before pushing Cavendish to the win. The team have more stage wins than any other at this yearâ€™s Tour.
Cavendish now looks poised to overtake Merckxâ€™s record with the final sprint in Paris next Sunday. Cavendish has already won the bunch sprint here 4 times already in previous Tours, and has won every bunch sprint in this yearâ€™s edition. The last winner here was Cavâ€™s predecessor Sam Bennett.
Many are questioning whether the Manx Missile will retire after that, but given his success at this yearâ€™s Tour it seems unlikely. Prior to now, many had already written him off as past it. There may be some truth in that, given the various peaks of his illustrious career, but with his teammates in Deceuninckâ€“Quick-Step heâ€™s silenced even his harshest critics.
In an interview following his win, Cavendish said â€śWeâ€™ve seen such a growth, especially in the UK, of cycling, since I started racing here at the Tour de France,â€ť Cavendish said.
Cavendish first won a stage at the Tour de France in 2008, and since then British riders have went on to win dozens of stages at all three of the major Tours. British Cyclingâ€™s medal haul is colossal, with numerous General Classifications winners, Olympic Golds, World Championships and individual stage races across every possible domain. In part because of Cavendishâ€™s success at the Tour.
â€śIf any one of my wins can inspire any kids to ride the Tour or Tour Femmes when they grow up, then thatâ€™s what means the most to me.” He continued. Many of the riders he currently races against were only children when he first won a stage at the Tour de France, over 13 years ago. Jasper Phillipsen who finished third behind Cavendish and MĂ¸rkĂ¸v, was only 10 years old at the time!
It was announced this week that a female edition of the Tour would return next year after almost a decade with no major womenâ€™s stage racing in France. Cavendish has been vocally supportive of its launch.
When asked specifically about equalling the all-time record for Tour de France wins, Cavendish said â€śI havenâ€™t realised. Itâ€™s still just another win on the Tour de France, itâ€™s like my first one. Iâ€™ve won a stage of the Tour de France. Thatâ€™s what I dreamed of as a kid. Itâ€™s what I dream of now. And I worked so hard for it.â€ť
Cavendish will likely have one more opportunity to break Merckxâ€™s record before he reaches Paris. However, the biggest challenge for him now is getting through the Pyrenees unscathed and ahead of the time limit. If he can get through that, then he is a great chance at getting 35 wins and maintaining the green jersey, over a decade on after his first major Grand Tour points win back in 2011 on the very same cobbled streets.
Regardless, it is an incredible achievement and one that is unlikely to ever be beaten. It joins an evergrowing list of records that Mark Cavendish has broken in an illustrious career spanning three decades. It is inspiring to watch and exciting to see what will happen next.