Mark Cavendish may have missed out on a fifth stage win at the 2021 Tour de France on the Champs Elysées on Sunday, and with it the chance to edge clear of the record of 34 stage wins he shares with Eddy Merckx, but the British sprinter was still able to look back at his incredible comeback with pride and joy.
Twelve months ago, it looked like Cavendish’s career was stalling towards retirement. Without a major win in years, and with health issues plaguing him, a new crop of sprinters had cemented their dominance in the sport.
But a one-year deal at Patrick Lefevere’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team kick-started Cavendish back into the top echelons. Four wins in the Tour of Turkey snowballed into a stage win in the Tour of Belgium and, when Sam Bennett was ruled out through injury, Cavendish was given the call to join the team in Brest for the Grand Départ at the end of June.
"To be honest I couldn’t quite believe that I was talking about being at the start three weeks ago," he told the BBC on Monday morning.
Mark Cavendish misses out on breaking Eddy Merckx's record for the most Tour de France stage wins
Mark Cavendish: I don't think I can ever be compared with the great Eddy Merckx
Mark Cavendish keen to continue career beyond Tour de France
Mark Cavendish and his 34 Tour de France stage wins – Gallery
"That seems like an age since we were at the start in Brest. It’s gone quite fast, it’s been a hard three weeks but it’s an absolute fairytale, it’s a dream come true."
Cavendish was asked about the high and lows of the last few years and, before pointing to the perspective that his family has brought to his life, he explained where his road racing career had left him in 2017 and 2018, when he was at his lowest.
"I went from wearing the yellow jersey in the 2016 Tour de France, winning four stages, winning a world championship and being second in the Olympics and having the highs of everything to not being able to win a race. I had Epstein Barr virus, I suffered from clinical depression. I had injuries and it was career over," he said.
"Now I have kids and first and foremost I wanted to inspire them. I’ve seen people get on bicycles since I started riding my bike professionally. I want to inspire them. Want I want to put out is that you should never give up. Obviously, over the last couple of years, I’ve had it harder but if you keep fighting and you don’t give up then good things will come from it."
Cavendish missed out on the Champs Elysées but he still ended the Tour de France with four stage wins – more than any other rider in the race – and a second green jersey. He is now tied with Merckx on 34 wins and, while he was coy on his future beyond this year, the door is certainly open for him to return next year – most likely with a deal at Lefevere’s team.
He did admit that losing to Wout van Aert on Sunday was due to his own mistake after he decided to switch trains in a messy and chaotic finish in which almost every team tried to launch a sprint.
"I’ve won four times on the Champs Elysées, and it’s the most prestigious finishing straight in the world for a sprinter. It’s not since 2012 that I won there. It would have given me a fifth win and now I’m level on stage wins with the great Eddy Merckx, it would have put me one ahead," he said.
"We were all up for it. I just made a bad decision in the end. I left my lead-out man and I thought that I’d find a better way but I didn’t. I let the boys down and I got boxed in. I was disappointed but the consolation was that I was on the podium in the green jersey. It’s been a journey. It’s not been an easy one but it’s been a beautiful one."
When asked about next year, he said: "I don’t know, we'll see.
"It’s another year away yet. If I’m honest it’s my 13th Tour but we’ll see what happens. First I want to spend time with my family, reflect and relax and see what happens in the next few weeks."
Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.