Tour de France sprint GOAT Mark Cavendish plots last hurrah on the grand stage

Mark Cavendish of Britain just loves the Tour de France’s green jersey. Picture: Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Mark Cavendish of Britain just loves the Tour de France’s green jersey. Picture: Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Published Jun 27, 2023


Bilbao, Spain - Cycling's all time great sprinter Mark Cavendish has nothing to prove except perhaps to himself as he embarks on his final Tour de France on Saturday.

Fans will crowd finish lines along the 3 404km route from Bilbao to Paris hoping to witness the 38-year-old celebrate sole ownership for the record of Tour de France stage wins.

Locked with Belgian legend Eddy Merckx since an astonishing return to form on the 2021 Tour lifted his tally to 34, he was encouraged to bow out on a high after being overlooked for the 2022 edition.

Cavendish scorched into the cycling limelight in 2008 celebrating his first four Tour de France stage wins with ingenious craft and celebrations of such passion he attracted new fans to the sport.

Prickly post-stage interviews only added lustre to a burgeoning star quality amongst the hardcore of fans who admire his old school hard-man persona.

Grand tour cycling has undergone profound change as planners have jazzed up the format for television viewers with routes that invite a maverick approach resulting in fewer stages for the pure sprinters such as Cavendish.

Whether he manages to pull off another stage win or not, his and Merckx's massive tally will likely never be beaten.

Despite that, Cavendish's quest will form an intriguing storyline alongside the struggle between defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and two-time winner Tadej Pogacar for the overall title.

"Can he do it? I think he can," Alberto Contador, twice a Tour de France champion, said this week.

"His morale will be at an all-time high after winning a stage on the Giro," he said of Cavendish's stage 21 win in Rome in May.

As with the cycling scene, Cavendish himself has experienced reinvention.

The 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart was centred on the Cavendish locomotive with stage 1 finishing in his mother's home town of Harrogate.

With what felt like half of Yorkshire packed into the town centre Cavendish fell hard in the finale creating a hushed unease instead of what could have been a 26th win.

Over the next two seasons Cavendish amassed five more stage wins before a long fallow struggle with the debilitating Epstein Barr virus.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was fighting back to a glorious Indian Summer in 2021 at Quick-Step, a team he considered as his home.

"The stars didn't align for me, that was me burning my fingers moving them," he said at the time.

Now the Astana-Qazaqstan Team provide Cavendish with a platform with six flat stages and only half of them likely to be claimed by the kind of mass bunch sprint on which he thrives.

There are several convincing contenders in there with him with Jasper Philipsen, Fabio Jakobsen and Caleb Ewan just a few of the form men Cavendish will hope to vanquish.

The man who matched Merckx is not the only big name taking part in his final Tour de France.

Old foe, triple world champion Peter Sagan, winner of seven Tour de France green jerseys for the rider with the most sprint points, is also calling it quits.

The pair have a torrid history, and a face-off for the sprint win on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 24 would provide a fitting farewell.