‘Exhausted’ Mark Cavendish draws level with stage record of Tour de France legend Eddy Merckx
Mark Cavendish matched the record of the great Eddy Merckx as he won his 34th Tour de France stage in Carcassonne.
Continuing a remarkable sporting comeback, a rider who feared his career was over in the winter won his fourth stage of this year’s Tour, writing his name ever further into the race’s history books as he matched a tally which had felt out of reach during the struggles of recent years.
The 220km stage from Nimes had been marked as a day for the breakaway but would instead come down to a bunch sprint in the citadel as Cavendish’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team worked all day to control the peloton.
There was a battle for position in the twisty finale but Deceuninck-QuickStep’s strength was on obvious display as Cavendish’s own lead-out man Michael Morkov took second on the stage ahead of Jasper Philipsen.
Cavendish had tried to ban talk of the record as he grew ever closer over the past two weeks, and could barely summon the energy to answer the inevitable question moments after crossing the line.
“I can’t even think about it,” Cavendish said. “I’m afraid I’m so dead after 220km in that heat, that wind and that finale, phwoar.
“I went deep, I went so deep there. The boys were incredible. I can’t believe it. A lot of the day it didn’t feel like it (was going to happen) but it had to happen because I had the guys riding like they were.
“I was so on the limit there.”
The win moves Cavendish level with Belgian Merckx, a five-time overall winner of the Tour, who took the last of his stage wins in 1975.
But to get this far Cavendish has had to overcome demons on and off the bike since taking four wins in the 2016 Tour, battling with the Epstein-Barr virus for over a year, which in turn led to Cavendish revealing he had been diagnosed with depression.
He fought to extend his career, however, and is now enjoying the spoils.
“I haven’t realised it,” Cavendish added. “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. It’s what I dreamed of as a kid and it’s what I dream of now.
“I’ve worked so hard for it. We’ve seen such a growth, especially in the UK, of cycling since I’ve started racing here at the Tour de France.
“If any one of my wins can inspire the kids to ride the Tour de France or the Tour de France Femmes from next year when they grow up, that’s what means the most to me I think.”
If he can stay safe through the mountain stages to come, the Manxman should have two more opportunities to take the record outright, first on stage 19 into Libourne and then on the final day on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
The sprint finish meant there were no major changes in the general classification, with Tadej Pogacar continuing to lead by five minutes 18 seconds from Rigoberto Uran.
Friday’s stage had been tipped for a breakaway - Carcassonne, hosting a stage for the 11th time, had never previously seen a sprint finish - but with only three riders getting into the day’s break, the balance tipped back in favour of the fast men.
The race began to come back together in the final 70km, with the upping of pace leading to a nasty crash on a downhill section which would end the race of Simon Yates - who was using the Tour to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.