Mark Cavendish has an appointment with the history of the Tour de France.
While much of the race fanfare will be sidelined for another year as the peloton parades around Paris, there is the small question of a historic record to be set.
After a Tour that saw Cavendish turn back the clock, he is set to leave an indelible mark in the history books of cycling.
Sunday’s stage through Paris is an opportunity for Cavendish to overtake Eddy Merckx with a 35th victory and become the rider with the most stage wins on the Tour de France in 118 years of racing history.
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If he did, it would be in the most auspicious setting on one of the Large Bucklethe most iconic backdrops. He will also get his second green jersey, 10 years after winning his first, and set a new record by being the only man to win five times on the sacred cobblestones of the Champs-Élysées.
Cavendish already holds the record with four, having taken an iron fist on the prestigious stage between 2009 and 2012.
Sunday’s victory would be his first time on the podium in Paris since 2012.
The journey to achieving the all-time record for the stage has at times felt like it was written in a movie script, so it’s fitting that it ends on the Champs-Élysées.
Cavendish spent much of the race telling people not to talk about it and pushing back against the idea that he was even chasing the record.
“I don’t think I can ever be compared to the great Eddy Merckx, the greatest male road cyclist of all time,” he said after tying Merckx’s record at Carcassonne on stage 14 “We don’t have time to think about it. But there’s still a lot of life left after that to reflect on what we’ve done and the history we’ve made. “
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However, the moment will not be lost for Cavendish when the peloton rolls out of Chatou on Sunday afternoon.
If his victories are on less varied terrain than Merckx, as the Belgian insisted in an interview last week, it is a feat no less incredible.
Especially considering the fallow years of Cavendish’s recent career.
Can Cavendish have a Hollywood ending?
There was a time when it seemed like Cavendish would win Tour de France stages for fun, but new challengers, illness and injuries have provided him with many obstacles to overcome in recent years.
His run through this year’s race was reminiscent of his 2016 race, where he entered as an underdog in the sprint competition.
Marcel Kittel, Dylan Groenewegen and Peter Sagan were the big favorites that year, and few expected Cavendish to go wild in the sprints to claim four stage wins before setting off on the second day of rest.
This form lifted him above French hero Bernard Hinault in the wins standings and put the Manxman within a spitting distance of the Merckx record.
At the time, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Cavendish overtook the Belgian. He didn’t and we know the 2016 race will see its last Tour de France victory in five years.
A crash with Peter Sagan in 2017 forced him to retire after Stage 5. The following year he would quit the race as so many others did throughout this year’s competition outside of the time allotted on a grueling mountain stage.
His departure from the 2018 Tour de France marked the start of a very difficult period for Cavendish. The Epstein Barr virus he was diagnosed with in April 2017 had always won and he would not be given the green light until May 2019.
The Manxman was diagnosed with clinical depression shortly after, in August 2018.
“I did not take any medication. Like, now is not the time or place – we’ll do something at some point – but I got some help, ”he said in an interview with Time in April 2020. “I was gloomy. And I’m on the other side, thank you. Well, as much as I can be. I think I got out of it.
Cavendish continued to run but struggled to rediscover his means of winning. He was excluded from the Tour de France for two consecutive years and looked set to hang up his racing wheels late last year.
Cavendish’s move to Deceuninck-Quick-Step over the winter made the sprinter younger and he was back on the winners’ podium in April. However, he looked set to miss this year’s Tour de France and it was a knee injury from Sam Bennett that gave him his chance.
Little Man Syndrome… .https: //t.co/j02ID9qnPx pic.twitter.com/78t3vOZPbU
-Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) June 23, 2021
It is an opportunity that he seized with both hands.
“Three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that. This race is everything for me as a professional, ”said Cavendish after securing his first victory of the 2021 race at Fougères.
“We almost forgot how difficult it is to win a stage in the Tour. It is not easy at all. It was the hardest thing to take – people don’t understand the sacrifices I made to win these 30 Steps. This race gave me the life I have, and I gave it the life I have. I’m just glad to be back. It sounds silly but it means so much to me. From the first time in 2008 until now. I am living a dream.
If the plot wasn’t ridiculous enough, Cavendish would win at Chateauroux a few days later. The town was where Cavendish won his very first Tour de France stage in 2008.
He then tied the Merckx record on the 13th anniversary of that first victory.
If someone came to you with this script, you would push them away and ask for something more realistic.
The question now remains, will Cavendish be happily ever after in Paris or is this a movie with a different ending? Can any of Cavendish’s challengers usurp the resurgent champion?