An emotional, tired but happy Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) struggled to understand that he had equalled Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins at the Tour de France after going deep during the long, hot stage 13 to Carcassonne and then in the hectic, rising sprint.
“I can’t even think about it,” he said, still trying to recover from his sprint effort and the stage.
“I’m so dead after 220km, in that heat, in that wind, that final. I went deep there, so deep. The boys were incredible. I can’t believe it.
“It's still just another win on the Tour de France, it's like my first one. I've won a stage of the Tour de France, it's what I've dreamed of as a kid. It's what I dream of now. I've worked so hard for it.”
Cavendish hopes his success at the Tour de France can inspire the next generation of riders.
“We've seen such a growth of cycling since I started racing here at the Tour de France. If any one of my wins can inspire kids to ride the Tour de France or Tour de France Femmes next year when they grow up, that's what means the most to me,” he said.
Deceuninck-QuickStep seemed in charge of the sprint as they led the peloton under the flamme rouge that signals the final kilometre, even after losing Tim Declercq in a downhill crash and after a long ride across the south of France in the summer heat.
However, a late turn shuffled the pack with Team DSM taking over at the front. Davide Ballerini then went off the front of the pack with Ivan Cortina chasing him. Cavendish seemed stuck out of position but managed to cut inside to get back on Mørkøv’s wheel.
The Danish lead-out man then dragged him back up front and Cavendish opened his sprint in sight of the line, passing Mørkøv and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to take win number 34.
“A lot of the day it didn't feel (like it would happen), but I had to (sprint), with the guys riding like they were,” Cavendish said, yet again revealing the intricacies of Tour de France sprinting.
“I was so on the limit - you saw at the end. It was slightly uphill. (Ballerini) was there and [Ivan] Cortina went, it was a good jump. I was just lucky I had Mørkøv there, he just dragged him back. I just played it calm.”
Cavendish also revealed that he thought he may have suffered a slow puncture in the final kilometres and avoided any risk when moving past Nacer Bouhanni in the final 500 metres.
“The roads with about four or five kilometres to go got a little slippery and I thought I'd punctured but everyone else was like: ‘it's the road, it's not your tyre.’ But we had to take it easy, I just lost a bit.
“I’ve got another problem as well. The commissaires on the first day came to tell me I head-butted Bouhanni on the roundabout. But I didn't head-butt him. The problem is that I have such narrow shoulders that if I lean with my shoulder it looks like my head's close.
"I've got guys coming in and I have to really think about leaning without using my head. It's hard. In fact, the safest thing is to use your head, if you start using your elbow... but you know what they're like.”
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