Tour de France: The Manx missile

Mark Cavendish won his 34th stage of the Tour de France on July 9, equalling the all-time record held by Belgian cycling legend, Eddy Merckx, since 1975.

This is Cavendish’s fourth stage win at this year’s Tour de France. A Tour which, he was not expected to ride in until last month when his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammate, Sam Bennett was forced to pull out following a knee injury.

In an interview following his first stage win of this year’s Tour, Cavendish said “So many people didn’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 Deceuninck–QuickStep you’ve got the best riders in the world, so it wasn’t even a thought to come here.”

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 Deceuninck–Quick-Step, which itself is the successor to Omega-Pharma-Quickstep, where he previously had so much success. In 2013, he won the Giro D’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 Mørkøv, former Danish champion, who is widely credited as being the World’s greatest lead out rider. Mørkøv placed second in today’s stage rankings following a lengthy 220km stage in the heat, before pushing Cavendish to the win. The team has more stage wins than any other at this year’s Tour.

Cavendish now looks poised to overtake Merckx’s record with the final sprint in Paris next Sunday. Cavendish has already won the bunch sprint here four times in previous Tours, and has won every bunch sprint in this year’s edition. The last winner here was Cav’s predecessor Sam Bennett.

Many are questioning whether the Manx Missile will retire after that, but given his success at this year’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 Deceuninck–Quick-Step he’s silenced even his harshest critics.

Cavendish following his first Tour de France stage win back in 2008

In an interview following his win, Cavendish said “We’ve seen such a growth, especially in the UK, of cycling, since I started racing here at the Tour de France,” 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 Cycling’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 Cavendish’s success at the Tour.

“If any one of my wins can inspire any kids to ride the Tour or Tour Femmes when they grow up, then that’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 Mørkøv, 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 women’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 “I haven’t realised. It’s still just another win on the Tour de France, it’s like my first one. I’ve won a stage of the Tour de France. That’s what I dreamed of as a kid. It’s what I dream of now. And I worked so hard for it.”

Cavendish will likely have one more opportunity to break Merckx’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.

Peter Stoddart

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