Mark Cavendish has long shrugged off talk that he could equal or surpass Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour de France stage win record but now, heading into the 2017 season, he has finally embraced that possibility.
The British sprinter took four stage wins during last year’s Tour and may have netted a fifth had he not left the race early to prepare for the Olympic Games. His campaign also saw him take the yellow jersey for the first time in his career and returned him to the pinnacle of world sprinting.
Equally importantly, it increased his career tally of Tour stage wins to 30, just four off Merckx’s record of 34.
That high water mark has long been a topic of conversation within the sport. However, perhaps because of the pressure involved, Cavendish himself tended to back away from any declarations that he would chase the record.
He’s now changed his mind.
“The record was really never on my mind before, but now it is. Realistically it is achievable,” he told CyclingTips in a long sit-down interview at the recent Team Dimension Data training camp. “I have heard about it so much that I may as well.
“Even the people around me, my team and that, talk about it now, which never happened before. It means it has to be a goal.”
Cavendish showed incredible momentum early in his career, picking up four wins in the 2008 Tour, six in 2009, five in both 2010 and 2011 and three in 2012. His momentum then slowed somewhat, with the Briton taking two wins in 2013, crashing out of the Tour in 2014 and then collecting one victory in 2015.
However his 2016 campaign was superb and brought him from 26 to 30 career victories. He’s likely got several years left as a professional but if he can replicate that form in this year’s Tour, he could match the record sooner rather than later.
He’s focussed, but also not taking anything for granted.
“I will give the Tour de France the respect it deserves and be comfortable just to do my best,” he stated. “If I am only good enough to win one again in my career, it is the Tour de France and I would be happy with that. But yeah, it would be nice to get it.
“It’s exciting to be close. It has become more than just the media talking about it this year. Now I am on 30, it is a realistic target.”
Click here to read the full interview with Mark Cavendish.