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Gallery: The day Mark Cavendish equalled Eddy Merckx's Tour stage win record

Martin James
10 Jul 2021

A fourth stage win of the 2021 Tour de France makes it 34 in total for the Manx Missile, but this one took everything he had

‘I can’t even think about it. I’m afraid I’m so dead. 220km in that heat, that wind, that final… woah.’

Not the first words we were expecting from Mark Cavendish after finally, improbably, incredibly, equalling Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins with a fourth sprint success at the Tour de France yesterday.

And yet that spoke about how hard the Manx Missile had to work to etch his name in the history books alongside the great man. While stage win number three a few days ago had seen Cavendish barely required to turn up, such was the ease with which his team shepherded him to the line, this one was a completely different story.

The day itself – a flat run from Nimes to Carcassonne – had always looked likely to end in a sprint finish. The previous day had seen the peloton call a truce and allow the breakaway to prevail. It wasn’t going to happen twice in a row.

And so the breakaway was allowed to escape, then was duly chased down. But as much as Cavendish’s Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates tried to control the race, a combination of wind, heat, a technical approach to the finish and increasingly tired legs made that impossible.

In truth, with 250m to go it looked like being someone else’s day. But in a difficult uphill finish, Cavendish did what he always does: he dug deeper, pushed harder, and won.

He was thoroughly exhausted afterwards, and for the first time in this race looked every day of his 36 years of age. And with four tough Pyrenean stages to come starting tomorrow, any talk of claiming the record outright with a fifth stage win on the Champs-Elysees will be shelved. The next week will simply be about survival.

But that approach of taking each day as it comes is exactly how Cavendish has reached 34 stage wins in the first place, and it won’t change now, even with the milestone achieved.

‘I haven’t realised. It’s just another win on the Tour de France. It’s like my first one. I’ve won a stage of the Tour de France.’

Check out Chris Auld's images from the stage:

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