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Mark Cavendish powers to record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage win
Cycling Sport

Mark Cavendish powers to record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage win

Mark Cavendish broke new ground in the Tour de France, becoming the most prolific stage winner in the history of the French race, as he took a record-breaking 35th victory with a typically instinctive sprint finish in Saint-Vulbas.

It may not have been as grand as the Champs Élysées, but when the moment came on the Avenue des Bergeries, in a suburban town better known for its boulodromes than for its sprint spectacles, the 39-year-old from the Isle of Man kept his date with destiny.

“You have to go all in,” he said, “and we’ve done it. We worked out exactly what we wanted to do, how we built the team, the equipment. Every detail has gone ­specifically into today.”

The Cavendish who threaded his way expertly through a chaotic melee to eclipse Eddy Merckx’s longstanding record of 34 stage wins was a million miles from the rider who had sweated and vomited his way through the Tour’s first stage, five days earlier.

“You know when things are going right, you know when the team’s dialled in,” he said. “It’s more to do with the belief and confidence you have and I think you saw in the final half of the stage today, my boys were committed.”

Cavendish comebacks have become legendary but this was perhaps the greatest triumph over adversity of all, given how hard he had to battle to get through Saturday’s stage from Florence to Rimini. “It normally takes me days to get into it,” Cavendish said. “I’ve done 15 Tours now. I don’t like having bad days, I don’t like to suffer, but I know it’s just in the head and if you get through it, you can have an opportunity.

“Things have to go your way. It’s the Tour de France. You’re never going to feel fresh in this bike race. I think that’s the same for anyone.”

Mark Cavendish celebrates with his Astana teammate Alexey Lutsenko.View image in fullscreen

Even on the first sprint stage, into Turin on Monday, he was stymied by a crash in the last three kilometres. This time, however, the stars aligned once more for Cavendish, with both the peloton and the weather in south-eastern France playing ball.

He is one of the most hardened professionals in World Tour cycling, but he is also one of the most sentimental: a fearless sprinter who places huge value on loyalty, team spirit and togetherness. Cavendish has often insisted that he has not been obsessive about breaking Merckx’s record, but the joy evident on his face, and those of his colleagues in the peloton, revealed the truth.

“I just want to be with everyone,” he said after his win, referring to the many teammates, friends and helpers who have supported him through his 15 Tour appearances.

For win 35, he and his Astana Qazaqstan team were in the zone for much of the final 40km, shepherding him expertly into the closing moments. With 24km to go and the surfaces drying out after an earlier downpour, he and his teammates stubbornly hugged the right-hand side of the road and maintained the steady pace that had characterised much of an uneventful stage.

But with 5km to go, things got messy as the Lotto Dstny team took over the pace making. Suddenly, Cavendish faced a fight on his hands to regain a good position. Despite the expectations and the pressure building to succeed, he kept his cool and navigated his way to the front, before unleashing his sprint with perfect timing.

As he has shown in the past, he sprints as successfully using guile, nous and experience, as he does relying on his team. Fittingly, for his record-breaking win, this was a ­classic example of those instincts.

In the end it looked almost easy. The rival who frustrated him last year in Bordeaux, Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Deceuninck, experienced what so many others before him had in the Tour, as the Manx Missile, head down, crouched over his handlebars and left him behind.

“You know what you have to do,” Cavendish said. “I know the final, I go through it in my head. I stay calm, I trust in my boys and I know I’m in with the best shot.”

From a tearful teenager making his world championships debut in 2005 and winning a gold medal, to a similarly tearful father of five, Cavendish has always worn his heart on his sleeve. Most in the race convoy are familiar with his many moods, whether it’s been happy Cav, sentimental Cav, tetchy Cav or fired-up Cav. For his sprint rivals, calm Cav may be the most daunting of all.

As he celebrated his 35th Tour success in 16 seasons and repaid the faith shown in him by the team manager, Alexandre Vinokourov, the prospect of yet more wins came into view. Dijon’s Cours General de Gaulle, scene of the finish of Thursday’s flat sixth stage, awaits.

Source: theguardian.com