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Tour de France

Mark Cavendish survives final mountain stage to sit poised for 35th Tour de France victory

Cavendish sees the iconic sprint on the Champs-Élysées as his best chance to break the Tour de France stage win record.

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Mark Cavendish has beaten the mountains, now he’s got to beat the sprinters.

Cavendish suffered through the final climbing stage of the 2021 Tour de France on Thursday to beat the time cut and tee up the prospect of him grabbing a record 35th stage win before this year’s race is done.

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“I got a bit emotional there crossing the line, now it seems all the obstacles have gone and I can get to Paris,” Cavendish said after rolling to the top of the Luz Ardiden climb Thursday.

Cavendish finished stage 18 Thursday in the wheels of four teammates, 32 minutes behind stage winner Tadej Pogačar and six minutes ahead of the time cut.

The battle between the Deceuninck-Quick-Step sprint train and the cutoff has been one of the narratives running through the mountain stages of this year’s Tour. Thursday’s Pyrénéan haul pitted Cavendish against his oldest foe, the 17 kilometer Col du Tourmalet.

“We got to the Tourmalet … probably my worst climb in the Tour de France. I don’t know how many times we’ve done it, ten times maybe, and every time I despite it,” Cavendish said. “Even before we got to it I was out the back but the lads were around me and they paced me up to the finish. I’m so grateful.”

Two opportunities remain for Cavendish to again rewrite the record books at this year’s Tour. Should the Manxman score his fifth sprint win of the race to make it 35 in total on Friday or Sunday, he will go one better than the long-standing record of Eddy Merckx.

The 36-year-old tamped down the prospect of number 35 coming as soon as Friday’s long, hilly stage into Libourne, suggesting his Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammates may be blunted after three consecutive days in the Pyrénées.

“I don’t know… If there is a sprint [Friday], we’ll try for it – but it’s 205km and hard,” Cavendish said. “I’d like my boys to be able to sit in the peloton, they deserve it.”

That would leave Paris and the Champs-Élysées. Cavendish won four times on the iconic boulevard during a prolific spell from 2009-2012.

He would not be drawn too deeply into speculation as to whether he would add extra glamor to his stunning comeback by crossing the line first in Paris.

“Hopefully, yes,” was all he had to say about the possibility.

With a dwindling sprint field of sprinters to beat and a rich, winning history on the Champs, it’s hard to bet against the so-called “Manx Missile” making it 35 on Sunday.

Unless he’s already done it on Friday’s roads into Libourne of course.