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Tour de France

Wiser, older Mark Cavendish relishes history-making victory at Tour de France

The once brash 'Manxster' has mellowed, but he's unbeatable again in the sprints as he matches the Eddy Merckx record.

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Mark Cavendish is still brash on the bike, but he’s calmer and more appreciative off of it.

The 36-year-old is relishing every moment as he’s marching into the history books at the Tour de France. On Friday, he matched the all-time mark of 34 stage victories set by Eddy Merckx.

“I’m not going to lie sometimes I think I’ve been personally picked at, but on the same level I think I’ve also been a prick,” Cavendish said. “But that’s what happens when you’re young and I think for many years I suffered the consequence of being brash and young without an education [to the media].”

Cavendish was a mercurial 23-year-old when he won his first Tour stage in 2008, and over the years, has had plenty of run-ins with the media.

Also read: Cavendish equals Merckx mark

Throughout his Tour of revival, however, Cavendish and his Cinderella Story have helped liven up what’s been a somewhat stale edition with Tadej Pogačar taking firm control of the yellow jersey by the first weekend.

“And as you get older, you get a family, responsibilities, you learn to behave, and unfortunately some people didn’t want to let go of what I was like when I was young even though I had changed,” Cavendish said. “And it maybe took time away for me to get chip off my shoulder and the press to get their chip off their shoulder. And as you can see, I’m a grown up now. I’m 36, I’m not a 20-year-old who wanted to fight the world.”

The older and wiser Cavendish is winning over a new legion of fans during this Tour with his humble comments and thrilling racing.

It wasn’t always that way. When he was unbeatable in his heyday, he often dissed rivals and slammed journalists who dared to question his supremacy in the bunch sprints.

“This year especially I’ve had the best reception from the French people, how generous they’ve been with their love and support,” Cavendish said. “That’s what I missed the most about this race. Without the public you don’t have the Tour de France. I didn’t race last year through COVID, but people said it wasn’t the same.”

After his improbable return to the Tour for the first time since 2018, not many were convinced Cavendish would dominate the sprinters in the unrelenting way that he has.

After Tim Merlier won stage 3, Cavendish is unrivaled in the bunch sprints. With perhaps two more chances, Cavendish could set the all-time mark in Tour history.

Throughout the Tour, however, he’s refused to gloat too much and even refused to speak about the Merckx record.

On Friday, he finally shared a few thoughts.

“I don’t think I can ever be compared to the great Eddy Merckx, the greatest male road cyclist of all time,” he said. “I think to equal the number of stage victories, and I think for someone who doesn’t follow cycling a lot it’s something they can put into perspective. For the people who don’t really follow cycling if it can inspire them to get on a bike, if a British rider has done that, that’s the biggest thing I can take from it I guess.”

For Cavendish, sharing the victories with his teammates at Deceuninck-Quick-Step is the most important thing.

The Belgian team offered him a lifeline last winter when Cavendish thought his career was over.

Revived under the team where he enjoyed some of his best success, Cavendish said Merckx milestone is something to be celebrated with everyone inside the team bus.

“It’s just to share it with these guys, I wish all the teammates that I’ve had since 2008 were here,” Cavendish said. “You know to share this with me, the problem is we’ve still got work to do tomorrow. We don’t have time to kind of reflect on it. There’s plenty of time after this Tour de France and the history we’ve made.”