NANTES, France (VN) — Mark Cavendish has few targets left in his career, but one remains dangling out in front, tantalizingly within reach this month in the 2018 Tour de France: Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins.
Merckx dominated cycling in the 1960s and 1970s. He won every monument and every grand tour, accumulating 34 stage wins in the Tour de France along the way. No one has touched that record for the last 40 years, but ‘Cav’ is getting close.
“In terms of races I can physically win, I’ve pretty much done everything,” the British cyclist said. “It’s really the only target I have left. It seems so close yet it is a big distance away.
“If it’s not this year so be it, but I’ll try to get it before the end of my career, that’s for sure.”
Cavendish counts 30 wins in the Tour de France. In some years, he pulled in five or six stages in one edition. Other years have been worse. In 2017, after he and Sagan bumped in a sprint, Cavendish abandoned while Sagan was disqualified. He went home with zero wins.
It becomes a race against time. The 33-year-old from the Isle of Man should realistically race three more editions of the Tour de France, carrying him to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he wants to race for the Madison gold medal.
“I had a good build-up, I’m looking forward to racing here in the Tour now and get the fruits of my labor,” he said.
“Realistically, there are six sprint stages and a few more for guys who can go up hills more easily than me.”
Cavendish fought to get to the Tour de France this season after a series of crashes in the Abu Dhabi Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo. Rib fractures slowed recovery from a fractured shoulder blade suffered at the 2017 Tour.
“They were early on, it’s been all right, it just meant that I didn’t get a break in the sprints which doesn’t really bother me because I didn’t do that much racing anyway,” he said. “I’m OK, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at and I’m looking forward to the Tour de France now.”
Cavendish last won in February at the Dubai Tour. Since the 2016 Tour, he won four races. Looking back, that season was a golden year for Cavendish with four Tour stages and results throughout.
“It’s different because I was preparing for the track with the Olympics in 2016, I was a fair bit heavier with muscles in 2016, but that obviously gave me a lot more power for the sprints, but it made harder even going over a bridge than it would be now,” he continued.
“I’m back training to how I used to before that 2016 season and I feel fit, I seem to feel fit on the bike, but we got to try to get some results with that.”
Cavendish took his first stage win in 2008 in Châteauroux and kept going with three more victories. In 2009, he returned to win six times. French newspaper L’Equipe named him in 2012 as the Tour’s best sprinter of all time.
He took a step toward the record book in 2016 when he won four stages, overhauling Bernard Hinault in the process. Now, sitting second-best, his sights are on cycling’s king, Eddy Merckx.