Last year, Mark Cavendish was described as “the greatest sprinter of all time” by Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France. “Seeing a guy win stages 13 years apart is almost unheard of,” he remarked. “Cavendish’s career is phenomenal with great highs and great lows, but he found his way again and I just want to say to him: ‘Hats off’.”
Cavendish wasn’t expected to take part in last year’s race, drafted in with a week to go after Sam Bennett was left out by his team, following a training injury and ongoing disagreements. Unexpectedly, Cavendish found himself the Belgian team’s lead sprinter. Now vastly experienced, having won his first Grand Tour stages in 2008, Cavendish was able to make the most of the opportunity.
He rolled back the years, and continued to show his prowess on the road, as he won four stages of the 2021 Tour de France. He picked up wins in stages four, six, 10, and 13, meaning that he had now won 34 Tour de France stages in his career. He tied Belgian Eddy Merckx for the record of most stage wins in the race’s history.
There were hopes that he’d take the lead, and pick up win number 35 on the final day, with the race coming to a finish on the iconic Champs-Élysées, but it wasn’t to be as Cavendish finished third. Still, he had already overcome the cycling betting odds to equal the record.
Cavendish, 36 at the time, had completed a remarkable comeback, seemingly done with cycling the previous year. “I don’t think I can ever be compared to the great Eddy Merckx, the greatest male road cyclist of all time, but I think to equal him with the record number of stage victories, for people who don’t follow cycling a lot, is something they can understand and put into perspective,” he stated.
He went on to discuss the difficult experience of being a sprinter, stating: “Even if the team doesn’t deliver, you’re expected to deliver. My team delivers every single time and that puts the pressure on me. Sometimes that can be hard especially if you don’t feel great.”
While his achievement was momentous, you won’t find Cavendish in many tour de france tips this year. Despite Cavendish only needing one more stage win to break the record, his QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team confirmed that he wouldn’t be handed a place in this year’s race.
Cavendish is the team’s first reserve, along with Florian Senechal. While Cavendish, now 37 would have hoped to break Merckx’s record, the thought that he would compete was always optimistic, and there was only ever an outside change that he would find himself taking part in the race.
“I know if I went I’d win (stages), but I know if other guys get in the team they would win. I’d just be happy with whatever,” he remarked, seemingly sanguine about the situation. Although he’s expected to part ways with his team at the end of the year, Cavendish has been open about his hope to race in 2023, and perhaps beyond. It’s a romantic notion, but he may still get a chance to break the record.