Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) may have finished last on the final stage in the Pyrenees at this year’s Tour de France but that mattered little when he finally crossed the line over 32 minutes down on stage 18 winner and race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
All that mattered for Cavendish was that he had made the time cut and survived over the final mountains.
With just three stages left in this year’s race, including the showcase sprint stage into Paris on Sunday, Cavendish has two potential chances to beat Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour stage wins. He already equaled the incredible record earlier in the race and has four stage wins to his name already in this edition of the Tour.
Cavendish survived stage 18 once again by going deep on the climbs and thanks to the support of his teammates, with four Deceuninck-QuickStep riders pacing the sprinter up both the Col du Tourmalet and then the final 13.2km ascent to Luz Ardiden.
Cavendish was put under pressure even before the climbing began when Team BikeExchange attempted to drop him before the intermediate sprint but he finished seven minutes inside the time limit for the stage.
“We could have got through a lot easier than that but we were already finished before the climb because of doing that intermediate sprint. The attacks were going all day on the little uncategorized climbs and we knew that BikeExchange would go on the climb before the intermediate sprint. I burned up so many matches there,” a relieved Cavendish said at the finish.
“We got to the Tourmalet, which is probably my worst climb in the Tour de France. I don’t know how many times we’ve done it, ten times maybe, but even before we got to it, I despise it. I was out the back but the lads were around me and they paced me up to the finish. I’m so grateful. I got a bit emotional there crossing the line, now it seems all the obstacles have gone and I can get to Paris."
Asked about the possibility of Friday's flat stage to Libourne ending in a sprint finish so he can beat Merckx's record, Cavendish said: "I don't know... If there is a sprint, we'll try for it but it's 205km and hard. I'd like my boys to be able to sit in the peloton, they deserve it."
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