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Mark Cavendish overcame a chaotic leadout to take his 34th Tour de France stage win, matching Eddy Merckx’s stage win record.
Cavendish has played down his hunt for the stage win record, batting back questions on the subject at press conferences throughout the Tour. But as he embraced teammates and Deceuninck-Quickstep staff it was clear that matching the record was indeed top of mind.
“We made history,” he said to leadout man Michael Morkov as the two embraced after the finish line.
“I went so deep there, so deep there,” Cavendish said. “A lot of the day it didn’t feel like it was going to happen. I was so on the limit at the end, slightly uphill.”
Morkov crossed the line in second, looking to his sprinter on the right. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) was third.
Cavendish was visibly moved as he talked through both the day’s sprint as its significance after the stage. He opened the day’s press conference with a simple answer: “I don’t think I can ever be compared to Eddy Merckx, the greatest male road cyclist of all time.”
“To be equal on the number of stage victories, for someone who doesn’t follow cycling a lot it’s something they can understand and put in perspective I guess,” he said. “For the people who don’t really follow cycling, if that can inspire if them to get on bike because a British rider has done that, that’s the biggest thing I can take I guess.”
Merckx, for his part, told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he “won’t lose any sleep” about the record.
“There’ll be no problem if Cavendish equals my record,” he said. “I won’t lose any sleep over it. If he does it, I’ll congratulate him because it’s not easy to win 34 sprints.”
Merckx did take the opportunity to point out the differences between the two riders.
“Of course there’s a difference between us,” he said. “I won 34 Tour stages by winning sprints, in the mountains, in time trials and going on the attack on the descents. Let’s not forget the five yellow jerseys I’ve got at home plus the 96 days I wore it. Does that not seem like much?
“Naturally, I’m not trying to play down what he’s achieved. Also because he’s been through a difficult time and has fallen in love with cycling again. That’s a great message for young people in the sport.”
Merckx and Cavendish now share the top slot on the all-time wins list, ahead of Bernard Hinault with 28. Most of the top stage winners fit a mold closer to Merckx than Cavendish. In fact, the next closest pure sprinter is André Darrigade, a French sprinter who raced in the 1950s and won 22 stages. The closest modern sprinter is Marcel Kittel with 14 wins.
This story is developing, check back for more.