As Mark Cavendish prepared to makes his return to the Tour de France, we took a look back at the 30 victories that made him the greatest sprinter in the history of the Grande Boucle. We suspected we might have to update this article before July was out, but the Manxman has forced us back to the drawing board four times ahead of the the final stage to Paris.
After raising his arms in Valence on stage 10, Cavendish is now on four stage wins for this Tour and 34 in total – equalling Eddy Merckx's all-time record with another chance to come on Sunday.
This is the latest chapter in a remarkable relationship with the Tour and here we head down memory lane, from the precocious first four wins at Columbia, the HTC years with the well-oiled lead-out train, through to the brief stint at Team Sky, the less prolific QuickStep years, that 2016 resurgence at Dimension Data, and now his latest with Deceuninck-Quickstep in 2021.
We've revisited every win, with a photo and a quote from the man himself as well. Enjoy.
1. 2008 - Stage 5
Cholet – Châteauroux, 232km
In his second full season as a professional, and in his second Tour de France, a 23-year-old Cavendish sets the ball rolling with his first stage win. He has already followed up a brilliant debut season with major wins in the form of Scheldeprijs and two stages of the Giro d’Italia, but the Tour win propels him to new heights.
It’s a wide, slightly downhill finishing straight and late attacker Nicolas Vogondy is still out front when Cavendish notices his future lead-out man Mark Renshaw opening up for Thor Hushovd. He goes for a long sprint, taking that iconic aerodynamic position as he surges through the middle of the road to hold off Hushovd, along with Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel.
What he said: "It’s the biggest thing to happen to me without a doubt. To win a stage is massive and to win it so young is amazing."
2. 2008 - Stage 8
Figeac – Toulouse, 172km
Three days later, in the next bunch sprint opportunity, Cavendish does it again. It’s a messy sprint on soaking wet roads in the south of France, and the Columbia train – and the front of the bunch in general – is disrupted by a right-hand bend at the flame rouge. QuickStep and Gert Steegmans end up leading out, but Cavendish violently bursts out from the shelter over to the right-hand side of the road. He holds his speed as the others fade, while his lead-out man Gerald Ciolek manages to follow him all the way to the line to make it a Columbia 1-2.
What he said: “It was really fast and I had a bad place in the peloton. I had to go quite early so I gathered speed and went on until the line. It's a sensational finish especially as Gerald took second place. We now are the best team on this Tour."
3. 2008 - Stage 12
Lavelanet – Narbonne, 168km
Cavendish sprints with his right arm bandaged – a result of a collision with a stray football in the Pyrenees three days earlier. It doesn’t slow him down. Once again, QuickStep lead out the sprint and Cavendish, having taken Steegmans’ wheel, shows his anticipation by jumping a split-second before the Belgian can get out. It’s a fiercely sharp acceleration that takes him out front. The likes of Slyvain Chavanel start to come back but by that point Cavendish is celebrating.
What he said: "Today I was really tired, and for the team to put 100 per cent in me shows the faith they have, so I had to pay it back. All three wins came in different conditions. Today was the hardest of the wins but it was a win nonetheless."
4. 2008 - Stage 13
Narbonne – Nîmes, 182km
The dominance continues. As we wrote in our stage report: "The Cannonball is fast becoming the Cannibal in the sprints." This time Milram lead out for Zabel, and Cavendish is more of a free agent. He gets onto the train before ducking left onto Hushovd’s wheel. After a few moments, the road opens up in the centre-left and he hits out, once again hitting the line a bike length in front of a frustrated line of rivals.
What he said: "I sometimes do a bit of sprint training. I just ride my bike. I enjoy it. Track riding when I was younger definitely helped to develop my speed. I can hold my speed."
5. 2009 - Stage 2
Monaco – Brignoles, 187km
After winning Milan-San Remo in the spring, Cavendish strikes at the first opportunity at the Tour. It’s a hilly stage that ends in a messy sprint but still HTC manage to exert control, with George Hincapie and then Renshaw – an off-season signing – performing a fautless lead-out. Cavendish hits the wind early but never fades and Tyler Farrar cannot get close. He pulls on the green jersey for the first time.
What he said: "When the team goes so perfect, there can be only one result. We took control of the race and finished off in spectacular fashion. It's beautiful to wear the green jersey. It's emotional for me."
6. 2009 - Stage 3
Marseille - La Grande-Motte, 196.5km
The very next day, Cavendish makes it two, and it’s another show of dominance both from himself and his team, who split the peloton into a 30-man move in the crosswinds some 30km from the finish. Renshaw is there and this time takes him a little closer but the result is the same. Cavendish uses his thumb and pinky to mimic being on his phone in his victory salute – a nod to the team’s new sponsor HTC.
What he said: "We didn't plan it. It just so happened that we were at the front when the wind changed. It was left to just me and Mark Renshaw. He took me to 200 metres to go because of the headwind and didn't slow down at all. He kept the pace and I was able to swing right off his wheel to take my win."
7. 2009 - Stage 10
Limoges – Issoudun, 194.5km
This one is where it starts to almost look easy. Granted, the false flat sprint means this isn’t one of Cavendish’s faster sprints but it’s another uncomplicated Hincapie-Renshaw lead-out before Cavendish hits out just over 200 metres out. Hushovd is behind in green, having won the uphill sprint on stage 6, but can’t contemplate getting out of the slipstream.
What he said: "I was afraid of being jumped, like Petacchi did at the Giro. My saying now is, 'in doubt, hit out'."
8. 2009 - Stage 11
Vatan - Saint-Fargeau, 192km
This uphill finish is steeper and expected to offer the likes of Hushovd and Farrar a better shot, but Cavendish has the beating of them for the second time in two days. Milram try to muscle in on the lead-out but Cavendish still has Tony Martin, Hincapie, and Renshaw to make sure he only has to open up in sight of the line. He equals Barry Hoban’s British record of eight Tour de France stage wins.
What he said: "Normally, we have two guys in the last kilometre - today we had four, because they had to deliver me later. I kept the gear small. I was sprinting in the 13 or 14 [sprocket] instead of the 11, and I was able to get the jump."
9. 2009 - Stage 19
Bourgoin-Jallieu – Aubenas, 178km
Cavendish’s copybook has been blotted slightly by his relegation for irregular sprinting on stage 14 and a war of words with Hushovd over the battle for the green jersey, with the Norwegian sweeping up intermediate sprints in the mountain stages to take control. However, Cavendish responds resoundingly with a long-range sprint at the end of a hard stage. Rabobank had tried to ride him out of it on the late cat-2 climb but he hangs on and, despite an early handover from Renshaw, still leaves Hushovd et bashing their bars in frustration.
What he said: "It was really, really grim on the climb. I said the top of the climb was my finish line, and anything after that was going to be a bonus. It was one of the hardest sprints I've had to do, and it made it quite emotional at the finish."
10. 2009 - Stage 21
Montereau - Paris, 164km
This is one of the defining sprints in Mark Cavendish’s career. Even if there were no doubts over his speed, some still expressed reservations over his versatility and robustness. Milan-San Remo had swung the argument in his favour but getting through the mountains and winning on the 21st and final day puts it to bed. He becomes the 12th rider in history to win six stages at a single Tour, and setting of the Champs Elysées adds lustre to the achievement. And then there’s the sprint itself. There’s clear daylight. There’s pretty much a one-second gap. From the thrilling side-on shot, his rivals aren’t even in the frame. Cavendish is in a league of his own.
What he said: "When we came around that last corner, to be honest, I was sh**ting myself. It was scary, it was tight. But I just followed: if he [Renshaw] thought it was okay, I'd be okay, and we were okay. To cross the line with your hands in the air, in view of the Arc de Triomphe, is one of the most spectacular feelings you're supposed to have, and for sure, it didn't disappoint me today."
11. 2010 - Stage 5
Epernay - Montargis, 187.5km
After an unconvincing start, with a crash on stage 1 and 12th place on stage 4, Cavendish gets his Tour rolling with a fine sprint in Montargis. There’s no big HTC train as Garmin dominate the lead-out, but the sprint underlines the important of Renshaw. Garmin make a mess of the final handover for Farrar, just as Renshaw muscles his way through to drop Cavendish off in the centre of the road with 200 metres to go.
What he said: "It's incredibly emotional. All the pressure and emotion built up but it's finally over. Thing didn't go our way yesterday. I let them down massively and it would have been easy for them to say 'He hasn't got it' like other people did. But they rode for me."
12. 2010 - Stage 6
Montargis - Gueugnon, 227.5km
Cavendish doubles up in similar fashion. It’s a messy, bendy final kilometre, and Garmin look to have taken control, even getting a slight gap in the final 500 metres. But their chosen sprinter Robbie Hunter finds himself in the wind too early, and looks over to see Renshaw calmly dragging Cavendish up. Hunter jumps on but by then there’s nothing to be done as Cavendish jumps on the inside and shows everyone another clean pair of heels.
What he said: "The guys were perfect. We had four guys for the lead-out and we had to jump from behind one of the other teams. Renshaw kept his cool and jumped off Lampre's train and took me to about 150 metres to go... it was great."
13. 2010 - Stage 11
Sisteron - Bourg-lès-Valence, 184.5km
This one is overshadowed by Mark Renshaw’s disqualification from the race for headbutting Garmin’s Julian Dean in the final kilometre. The Australian had become territorial and, seeing it himself, Cavendish decides not to risk getting boxed in and hits out from distance. It’s a searing sprint, quickly opening up multiple bike lengths. Petacchi and Farrar start to make up ground towards the end but it’s win number three.
What he said: "Normally I go with 200 or 250 maximum and at 375 metres to go I saw a gap... it wasn't so much a sprint but a little breakaway."
14. 2010: Stage 18
Salies-de-Béarn - Bordeaux, 198km
Cavendish proves he can do it without Renshaw. Team Sky dominate the final kilometres before Cervélo lead out for Hushovd. Cavendish sets up stall on the green jersey’s wheel but dives over to Petacchi when the Italian jumps early. Cavendish is soon hitting out himself and it’s utterly convincing. He spends most of the final 50 metres looking around at the riders in his wake.
What he said: "I only want to win, not matter by how much. When Petacchi went, I thought, that's it. But then it was pretty easy."
15. 2010 - Stage 20
Longjumeau - Paris, 102.5km
Another final-day victory on the Champs Elysées, another absolute annihilation. His lead-out is again more a case of dropping him on a rival’s wheel, and he comes through the Place de la Concorde chicane in a good position. Like the previous year, the side-on shot is staggering, as Cervélo look to be leading out until Cavendish pings into the frame and out into the lead as if propelled by an elastic band. The difference in speed is striking and, although he wins by fewer bike lengths than 2009, it’s nevertheless a show of complete superiority.
What he said: "Every sprint in the Tour you try and save as much energy as possible, but the Champs-Élysées, you've got nothing to save your energy for - you just go balls-out to the line, and that's kind of what I did today."
16. 2011 - Stage 5
Carhaix - Cap Fréhel, 158km
After another difficult start to the Tour, Cavendish once again makes an emphatic statement. Unhappy with the nature of the opening stages, this one doesn’t even really suit him, with a messy false flat sprint among puncheurs like Philippe Gilbert, José Joaquin Rojas, and even Geraint Thomas. Cavendish hits out early, coming from towards the back of the group around the right-hand side to hit the front and nab it on the line. You can almost sense Gilbert’s shock when he looks over.
What he said: “The organisers made it hard for us to have a bunch sprint in the first week of the Tour this year – that's because we dominated last year and they tried to make a handicap for us. You can see what sort of finish it was. It was proper hard. My legs were going, going, going... I'm really happy. It's just good that we came out against adversity.”
17. 2011 - Stage 7
Le Mans - Châteauroux, 215km
The HTC train is back. Not part of the sprint the previous day, Cavendish is given an armchair ride to the finish as four riders peel off in turn. Greipel tries to steal a march with an early sprint on the right but Cavendish times it right and manages to hold off Petacchi on the left to win Châteauroux, scene of his first Tour triumph in 2008. He’s now on 17.
What he said: "This is a very special day for me. This was the one sprint that I really wanted apart from the one Paris because of its significance to me.”
18. 2011 - Stage 11
Blaye-les-mines - Lavaur, 168km
Cavendish is out to reassert his dominance after being beaten by Greipel on stage 10 – his first direct defeat in a Tour de France sprint (previously, the sprints he hasn’t won, he hasn’t really contested). It’s a messy run-in in the rain but Renshaw calmly guides Cavendish into position and he makes no mistake. Greipel hits out on the left but has to dive back into Cavendish’s slipstream and is unable to exit it.
What he said: "When the guys ride like they did yesterday and then I don't finish the job it's hard to take. But then I go out and make sure I win. I made the mistake of not hitting it hard yesterday. My danger is my acceleration and if I do that, I get a gap and can hold it."
19. 2011 - Stage 15
Limoux - Montpellier, 187km
The train is rolled out again and Peter Velits does an important turn up a kicker in the final kilometre, allowing Renshaw to take Cavendish to 200 metres. He hits out on the inside, shadowed by Daniel Oss, and uses his aerodynamic position to hit the line first. Farrar and Petacchi challenge on the outside but nothing doing.
What he said: "It was a technical finish, incredibly difficult with the wind. We were fighting with the GC riders in the final kilometers. It's really not normal. But the guys kept together and I'm so, so proud of them."
20. 2011 - stage 21
Créteil - Paris, 95km
Cavendish wins on the Champs Elysées for a third year in a row, this time in the green jersey, winning the points classification for the first time. It’s far less one-sided than his previous two in Paris, as Edvald Boasson Hagen nearly matches his initial kick, but it caps another big Tour de France haul, making him the first rider to win at least four stages in four straight Tours. The tally stands at 20.
What he said: “I’ve been trying to get the green jersey for the past few years and finally I’ve done it.”
21. 2012 - Stage 2
Vise - Tournai, 207.5km
A big change as Cavendish, wearing the rainbow jersey after his victory at the Worlds in Copenhagen, moves to Team Sky following the disbandment of HTC. There are question marks surrounding the level of support he’ll receive, with no room for his old sprint train in a team geared around Bradley Wiggins. Still, Cavendish hits the ground running, winning in the Tour’s first sprint. Lotto lead it out for Greipel but Cavendish bides his time in the headwind and pips the German to the line.
What he said: “I wasn’t really that optimistic about winning anything here. It’s the Tour de France. It’s a bit difficult to do things alone here, you know, so I’ve been pretty relaxed coming here.”
22. 2012 - Stage 18
Blagnac - Brive-la-Gaillarde, 222.5km
This is another of the ones that ranks right up there in the pantheon of Cavendish victories. He’s been next to anonymous in the intervening sprint stages, as Sky put all their eggs into defending Wiggins’ yellow jersey, but he asks for a chance here, and takes it. He actually gets a helping hand from Wiggins, and then from Edvald Boasson Hagen, but there is still so so much more to do. Luis-León Sánchez and Nicolas Roche are still away from the break in the final 400 metres, and Cavendish sprints long into the slipstream before pinging out to the right-hand side of the road. The likes of Matt Goss and Peter Sagan are left trailing by metres.
What he said: “It's been great to be a part of this team but it obviously puts me in a difficult situation. It's like Wayne Rooney playing in defence. You can still win the match, but you can't do your part of it to the best of your ability. But today we set it up and I scored the goal.”
23. 2012 - stage 20
Rambouillet - Paris, 120km
Despite never sitting comfortably within his team, the Tour nevertheless has a perfect ending for both parties. For the third year in a row, Cavendish triumphs on the Champs Elysées on the final day, his rainbow jersey adding to the sense of occasion. What’s more, he’s led out by none other than the yellow jersey, Wiggins, who hits the front along the Rue de Rivoli before Boasson Hagen does the final handover. A long sprint, but Cavendish prevails for one of the victories he still looks back on most fondly to this day.
What he said: "It’s incredible what we’ve achieved today. It was an honour to have the yellow jersey leading me out. Bradley told me he’d go full gas to the last kilometre and then Edvald led me into the last corner. The finish couldn’t have been more perfect – no better end to this Tour.”
24. 2013 - Stage 5
Cagnes-sur-Mer - Marseille, 228.5km
Despite the perfect end to the previous year’s Tour, Cavendish leaves Sky after just one season and joins the Belgian squad now known as Deceuninck-QuickStep. He strikes 11 times before the Tour, including five at the Giro, but struggles in the opening stages with illness and crashes. In Marseille, he has a dedicated lead-out at his service once again, and Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, and Gert Steegmans combine to drop him off. It’s a controlled sprint in that aero position to hold off Sagan and G