Tour de France: A new lease on life for Cavendish as he equals Hinault's stage tally

'If I'd won one stage, it would have made my career,' says 28-time stage winner

It was a close call at the Tour de France but in the end, Mark Cavendish could belatedly celebrate stage 3 honours when race officials awarded him the win after a close-fought sprint in Angers.

The Dimension Data rider – now with two stage wins in this year's race - is seemingly back to his very best, and his teammate Steve Cummings dubbed it the ‘good old days.' This might not be the utopic days between 2008 to 2011 when Cavendish would ruthlessly cull the opposition with an HTC scorch-the-earth policy to sprinting but it's very close.

The significant differences to those days are that Cavendish is using a different set of tactics. The age of his big-business lead out has gone, replaced by a more austerity-fuelled package built on guts, guile and grit. Elements of the old guard are of course present and accounted for, but this feels altogether different. It's a new lease on life; it's a new Cavendish.

"When it was announced that me, Mark Renshaw and Bernie Eisel were joining the team, it seemed nostalgic, and some scoffed at it," Cavendish said of his teammates.

"But it has worked out well. We've got Edvald Boasson Hagen too and Steve Cummings, who rode in the World Championships that I won. The results are coming, despite me not having won much, the rest of team have been good this season. I'm really proud of them; it's given me a new lease on life. Now, it's not only about pressure to win; I'm fully enjoying it, and that's a good thing."

Cavendish's career has been built around the Tour de France; his 28 stage wins is a monumental achievement that is only now bettered by Eddy Merckx (34). The British rider's star has waned in the last few editions of the Tour, but few could quarrel with the fact that winning so frequently between the years of 2008 to 2013 were going to be sustainable. The pressure has remained, but there is a sense that Cavendish has matured.

The spikiness that's as much part of his riding style as it is his character is still there, but so is his sense that if he were to hang up his wheels today, he would look back at a career with pride. And his move to Dimension Data is very much part of that new outlook.

"I was very fortunate to ride some of the biggest teams in cycling. They were successful years, and I had fun and made some great friends. But with big teams comes a lot of pressure. I was lucky to have great teams to deliver. Unless you're in this position, it's difficult to understand. But when I turned pro I was immediately winning and under pressure to win. Now it's about more than just winning, we're more than a billboard, we ride for a cause. It's 50 per cent of what we do, with 50 per cent of it is about results. It's more than just riding your bike, eating your dinner and then doing it the next day.

"When I started my career, to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Eddy Merckx or Bernhard Hinault is something I never dreamt of. I can't be compared to them so I just look at the numbers - 28 is 28. If I'd won one stage, it would have made my career. If I go on to win 50, then it's 50. But if this is the last then so be it. I built my career around this bike race and so ultimately I want to be successful here regardless of other great riders who have come here and done great things."

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