Comeback king 'Cav' to carry on doing the thing he loves

British rider Mark Cavendish setting the all time stage win record at the Tour de France (Marco BERTORELLO)
British rider Mark Cavendish setting the all time stage win record at the Tour de France (Marco BERTORELLO)

It has long been a given that Mark Cavendish is the Tour de France's greatest ever sprinter, and when he won a record 35th stage on Wednesday he possibly proved that more to himself than to a long-convinced cycling public.

Now 39 and in his 15th Tour de France, Cavendish has overcome injuries, illnesses and years in the wilderness to shine as brightly as anyone could expect a man of his age to do.

He flew over the finish line way ahead of his rivals in the lush Rhone valley on stage five on Wednesday, arms in the air, mouth agape in a victory cry.

"I love it, I love racing the Tour de France," he said post-race.

"It's my job and I'll carry on trying to win more and keeping on enjoying it," he added.

Long before his stunning 2021 Tour de France with his then-mentor Patrick Lefevere, when he won four stages, race director Christian Prudhomme told AFP the British sprinter "has nothing to prove".

Instead Prudhomme said that, in his opinion, Cavendish was the Tour's greatest ever sprinter.

Cavendish in fact had attracted a new generation to the sport with his brash celebrations at the finish line.

The story began with four stage wins on the 2008 Tour de France, which he abandoned on stage 14 to concentrate on his Olympics track bid with the British team.

Working with the Australian lead-out man Mark Renshaw, Cavendish won five more at each of the next three Tours de France with T-Mobile to ensure a horde of British fans tuned in the same way French ones did every day of the 21-day epic.

A switch to the emerging Team Sky was less fruitful, and a change to Belgian outfit Quick-Step between 2013-15 for what he would describe as some of his happiest years.

Once he moved on in 2016 he would fall ill with Epstein Barr virus, which went undiagnosed.

Cavendish's career looked compromised in December 2020: teamless and without a Tour de France win in five years.

He was taken 'home' to Quick-Step by the maverick Belgian Lefevere, whom the Briton has always trusted.

Together they masterminded four stage wins to equal Eddy Merckx's record of 34.

Merckx was better known for winning the Tour itself five times, and Cavendish was never comfortable being compared to his idol.

"I can't be compared to him," he said in 2021. "My wins have all been in sprints.

"Eddy Merckx is the greatest rider of all time, and he will remain so."

Now the British sprinter has surpassed Merckx's record dating back to 1975.

Merckx later added via social media: "Congratulations Mark for this historic performance.

"A good guy who has beaten my record on the Tour."

Cavendish has become one of cycling's big name stars with a new Netflix series of this Tour dedicated to him in the pipeline.

In Florence, the start city of this Tour, Cavendish suggested he had new horizons and interesting offers to continue in cycling, but off the bike.

But it seems the Isle of Man native's hunger for victory on two wheels remains very much alive.