This was Mark Cavendish’s reaction on Tuesday 29th June, when he took his first stage victory at the Tour de France for four years. That was his 31st stage victory. In terms of Tour de France stage wins.
Now, having secured 4 stage wins across the tour, and equaling, in the process, Eddy Merckx’s all time stage victory record (34), it would appear that Cav is truly and indisputably back!
Cavendish’s inclusion in the 2021 tour, following the sad news of Sam Bennett’s ongoing knee injury and his fairly public fall out with Patrick Lefevere, was probably as much of a surprise to the 36 year old Manx rider himself, as it was to the rest of the world. It has been some 3 years since Cavendish last completed the tour and some 5 years since his last stage victory with Deceuninck-QuickStep, back in 2015. Indeed on 28th June, Cav tweeted,“Nervous today for some reason….”
Well, whatever the reason, the nerves didn’t seem to affect his performance. He charged across the line, after passing around the Alpecin-Fenix leadout, and was able to finish a full bike-length ahead of his closest rival, Jasper Philipsen, at Fougères.
Cavendish’s first stage win came in Châteauroux, the same city that hosted the finale of stage 6 of this year’s tour. Already in green, after his heroic efforts earlier in the week, Cavendish once again stormed past Philipsen and his team mate Tim Merlier, to claim his second stage of the 2021 Tour de France. Nacer Bouhanni of Team Arkea-Samsic finished in third. This win was Mark Cavndish’s 50th Grand Tour stage victory and 32nd at the Tour de France, leaving him agonizingly close to Eddy Merckx’s record.
Hearts were in mouths, as the tour passed over the mountains. Seven riders failed to make the time cut on stage 9, in Tignes. a day of brutal alpine riding at its best. Cav was, thankfully able to sneak in under the cut, with just 97 seconds to spare. The 36 year old has always favoured much flatter stages, and explained, after 6 hours of gruelling climbs, that his aim was simply ‘Survival until Paris’, and the iconic final sprint stage of the race. An emotional Cavendish told Eurosport,
However, the rest day in Tignes seemed to work a treat for Cav, who put in a text book performance, with the help of his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates, to win stage 10, between Albertville and Valance. It was Julian Alaphilippe who made the first move towards the final sprint, with 3 kilometres to go. Cavendish was sitting 5th wheel in the much feared blue chain. Although all the top sprinters from the other teams were there, Arkéa-Samsic for Nacer Bouhanni, Jasper Philipsen for Alpecin-Fenix, Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe, Michael Matthews for Team BikeExchange, and Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma, the final few hundred metres belonged to Cavendish, who powered to a convincing victory, with Van Aert coming in second ahead of Philipsen who capped off the top 3.
Then, it was back to the Alps. Stage 11 saw the peloton make the legendary ascent up Mont Ventoux for the first time since 2016. Only this time, they did it twice!
Pausing en route to pay his respects at the Tom Simpson Memorial, Cav was able to finish the stage with the help of teammates Davide Ballerini, Michael Mørkøv, Tim Declercq and Dries Devenyns. He crossed the line with just a little over seven minutes to spare, after almost 6 hours in the saddle.
Other riders did not fair so well on this punishing test. Seven riders abandoned during the stage, including four times TT World Champion Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma). Luke Rowe, of team Inneos Grenadiers, sadly didn’t make the time cut, becoming the eighth rider timed out of this year’s tour. Søren Kragh Andersen was the last man to finish the day, coming home with just 3 seconds to spare.
Unlucky for some, but not for Mark Cavendish, stage 13, from Nimes to Carcassonne provided the setting for the Manx rider’s fourth stage win at the 2021 tour. This victory drew him level with Merckx on 34 Tour de France stage wins, and things looked promising for more with a few sprint stages left on the tour, including the blue ribbon Champs-Élysées stage, which the Manx man has previously won on four occasions. However, after his historic win, Cav was more focused on how his victories might go on to inspire future generations of riders.
He said in his post – stage interview.
So, to the final day in Paris. Last year DECEUNINCK – QUICK – STEP rider Sam Bennet was able to finish his Green Jersey campaign in style, taking the iconic stage while wearing the points leader distinctive colours. Could history be about to repeat itself? It would have been the dream ending to an incredible comeback tale.
Sadly, it was not to be. After losing Deceuninck-QuickStep lead-out man Michael Mørkøv, coming off the final bend, Cavendish found himself in a bit of a tight spot. Boxed in on all sides by riders jostling for position. It was then that Belgian national champion, Wout van Aert launched his attack. By the time the road was clear in front of Cavendish it was too late. An apologetic Cavendish had to settle 3rd on the day, but was elated to have made such a successful comeback and to have won green again, ten years after his last successful campaign.
But, with the all time stage record so agonizingly close and the 36 year old rider seemingly turning back the clock, to find himself in the shape of his life the question on everyone’s lips is can Cav go one better and truly cement his place at the top of the cycling history books? YOU can find out for yourself in person on one of Sports Tours International’s Official Tour Operator tours at the Tour de France 2022.
This is Carolyn’s inspirational story Dedicated to be at the Mont Blanc Marathon this year. She raised vital money for charities, and best of all documented her journey to share – we hope you enjoy it as much as we did sportstoursinternational.co.u… pic.twitter.com/7C5n0bj2iB