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'Don’t say the name!' Mark Cavendish plays it cool as Merckx’s Tour de France record edges closer

Tour de France 2021 - 108th Edition - 6th stage Tours - Chateauroux 160,4 km - 01/07/2021 - Mark Cavendish (GBR - Deceuninck - Quick-Step) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021
Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) wins stage 6, his second victory of 2021 Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

There was an air inevitability about it but with Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) winning stage 6 of the Tour de France and enjoying victory in Châteauroux for the third time his career, the Manxman edged even closer to Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France wins.

Cavendish is now on 32 stage wins, a huge tally in itself, but he jokingly played down the growing expectancy on his shoulders at the end of stage 6 when he was asked the question about the Belgian rider’s record. 

“Don’t say the name! I'm not thinking about anything,” Cavendish said.

“I just won a stage of the Tour de France, if that was my first stage or my 32nd stage, I've just won a stage of the Tour. That's what people work their whole lives for, I'm very happy. If I'm good enough to win 50, then I'm good enough to win 50, If I'm not good enough to win again, so be it.”

Cavendish came into this year's Tour de France as a replacement after an injury ruled out last year's green jersey winner Sam Bennett. The former road world champion won his first Tour stage since 2016 on stage 4 and moved into green as a result, but his victory on stage 6 was every bit as dominant as his Châteauroux victories in 2008 and 2011.

The Cavendish of old is back and that sentiment goes beyond just racing, with the 36-year-old also winding back the clock to given an excellently detailed analysis on how the stage unfolded.

"It seems like every time we finish here there's a different line-up. 2008 it was uphill a bit, I think it was further down the road. 2011 it was short - still uphill a bit ... It's been 10 years since I last won here. It's pretty special," he said.

He also had words for the tactics of some his rivals, and he questioned their decisions earlier in the stage, and again when it came down to the lead-out for the sprint.

"Actually in pretty similar fashion today – we were talking about what to do in the final because there are so many strong sprint teams here. To take it on is a big ask, you always get swamped at the finish by those big teams," Cavendish said.

"I don't understand why you'd bring a full sprint team here and not ride for a sprint. The break went with all our guys. We had Kasper in there – a lot of the sprint teams had someone in there.

"Also Groupama-FDJ and Arkéa-Samsic – they're French teams at the Tour de France and they panic because a group has gone then but when there's a breakaway challenging for the sprint and they don't pull.

"They've got everyone there in the final and you expect them to come pull. As usual it's the other teams that share the work with us. Alpecin-Fenix came with the strongest team in the end as well."

It was Cavendish's team that controlled the sprint in the final kilometres and they dominated the lead-out in a similar fashion to the Columbia and HTC teams of 2008 and 2011. This time it was Michael Mørkøv who posted Cavendish towards the front before Cavendish latched onto the Alpecin train in the closing stages.

"The wind was coming from the left and Michael left the left side for me to go but I wanted just a split second longer in the wheels before I went so I had to switch trains and go from there.You see the guys – you see how much they pulled there.

"The world champion, Julian Alaphilippe, just burying himself in the last kilometre. It's something special. I'm buzzing."