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Mark Cavendish makes history with record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage win

“The Tour de France is bigger than cycling”: The 39-year-old former world champion rolled back the years with a stunning sprint in Saint Vulbas to move ahead of Eddy Merckx as the most successful stage winner in the Tour’s history

16 years on from his first victory at cycling’s biggest race, Mark Cavendish made Tour de France history with a stunning, perfectly timed sprint on stage five in Saint Vulbas, earning him his 35th stage win, breaking the record he shared with Eddy Merckx, and cementing his place as the greatest sprinter in the sport’s history.

And, with a chance at cycling immortality weighing heavy on the 39-year-old’s shoulders at what will be his last ever Tour de France, it is fitting that the Manx Missile’s record-breaking sprint was peak Cavendish: battling, intelligent, and with a piercing, astonishing turn of speed that left the fastest men in the world floundering in his wake.

In what is swiftly becoming the trend for this most unique of opening Tour weeks, an almost entirely relaxed stage through the Maurienne Valley and Savoy’s vineyards gave way to a frenetic, chaotic, and pulsating finale in Saint-Vulbas.

While his Astana team, marshalled in the winter in a bid to recreate the highly-drilled HTC and Quick-Step lead-out trains that gave Cavendish some of his greatest successes at the Tour, attempted to take control in the run-in, by the final kilometre, Cavendish was unmoored and forced to rely on that other great trait of his career: the ability to surf wheels and navigate the chaos.

Latching onto the wheel of Jasper Philipsen, the closest thing the current peloton has to the Manx rider’s successor, Cavendish then moved to the left of the road, as it veered to the right.

The gap then opened – and Cavendish was gone.

Mark Cavendish wins record 35th Tour de France stage, 2024 Tour de France, stage 5 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

(Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

A crash behind amid the frantic jostling brought down Mads Pedersen, but for the 39-year-old from the Isle of Man, the path was clear.

Philipsen tried to respond, but in what seemed for all the world like a repeat from 2009, or 2011, or 2016, there was no stopping the constantly accelerating Cavendish, not even the chain that bounced off as soon as he crossed the line.

The Belgian sprinter crossed the line a bike length behind an exuberant, roaring, disbelieving Cavendish. The rest – as was so often the case over the last 16 years at the Tour – weren’t even in the picture.

The record, that record, was finally his. The ghosts of prolonged illnesses, team collapses, untimely mechanicals, crashes, injuries, a battle with depression, naysayers, and near misses vanquished, with one 10-second-long lightning-fast burst of famous, iconic, record-breaking speed.

A former world champion, a Milan-Sanremo winner, a winner of 17 Giro d’Italia stages, Cavendish has always said one win at the Tour de France was enough. He achieved that ambition way back in 2008 in Châteauroux.

On an early July afternoon in Saint-Vulbas –34 stages, a record he chased for so long, and periods of injury and frustration later – Cavendish cemented his position as the greatest sprinter of all time.

“We just wanted the run-in to do it, I’m in a little bit of disbelief. Astana gambled a bit this year, to make sure we did a good Tour de France and win at least one stage,” a shocked Cavendish said at the finish, as he received jubilant hugs from Astana general manager Alexander Vinokourov and stage three winner Biniam Girmay.

“My boss Alexander Vinokourov is an ex-rider, he knows what the Tour means, that you have to go all in. And we’ve done it. It worked out exactly like we wanted to do. The way we built the team, the equipment, every detail has been put towards specifically today.

“The Tour de France is bigger than cycling.”

Mark Cavendish wins record 35th Tour de France stage, 2024 Tour de France, stage 5 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Reflecting on his difficult start to the Tour, which saw him dropped early in the Apennines on the opening stages in the searing heat, the 39-year-old said: “It normally takes me days to get into the Tour, but I know how it works. I’ve done 15 Tours, and I don’t like having bad days, I don’t like to suffer, but I know you have to push through it, and things can still go your way.

“We didn’t nail it as a team like we wanted to do, but the boys improvised and got me there in the best position, and I shot onto the train that was going, and I was able to win.”

After all, winning is what Mark Cavendish does best.

> Mark Cavendish's top 10 greatest Tour de France stage wins

The 39-year-old's career-defining, race-defining triumph comes after he battled through the opening stage of this year's Tour, suffering across the Apennines in scorching temperatures, supported by his Astana teammates. 

Mark Cavendish vomits during stage one of 2024 Tour de France (Eurosport)

Cavendish appeared to struggle in the heat and was seen vomiting at one point, but rallied to make the time cut in Rimini. While he was again off the back on the hilly second stage to Bologna, there were no time cut concerns that day, before he missed the opportunity to compete in the race's first sprint, on stage three in Turin, after being held up behind a crash in the closing kilometres.

> Mark Cavendish's Tour de France stage-winning bikes — from Scott to Specialized, every bike the Manx Missile won his 34 Tour stages on

The Manx Missile's Tour de France journey began, somewhat aptly, in London at the 2007 edition as a fresh-faced 22-year-old who had just broken through near the top of cycling's fast-twitch hierarchy, although he would have to wait until a year later for his first stage win.

When it came, many followed, the then-Team Columbia rider winning four stages before leaving the race ahead of stage 15 to prepare for an ultimately anti-climatic Olympic Games on the track.

At the 2009 Tour, fresh from a heroic, last-gasp Milan-Sanremo win, Cavendish cemented his status as the undisputed faster sprinter in the world.

The Manx rider won six stages and made it to Paris for the first time, begining his love affair with the Champs-Élysées, the famous boulevard where he was victorious in four consecutive years between that edition and 2012, the final of those wins famously led out by Team Sky and the first British winner of the Tour, Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, 2012 Tour de France

With an astonishing 25 stage wins from his first six Tours, the Merckx question has been understandably everpresent throughout the second half of his career, often proving a source of irritation for the sprinter who had plenty practice in playing down his interest in beating the great Belgian's tally of 34 Tour stage wins.

Fascination with the record was reignited in 2021, however, when Cavendish pulled off an incredible return to the sport's pinacle, overcoming mental health struggles and a prolonged spell recovering from Epstein–Barr virus to get back to the Tour and win four stages for Deceuninck-Quick Step (as a late call-up), hauling himself level with Merckx's 34 and winning his second green jersey in the process.

MArk Cavendish after equalling Eddy Merckx's record - picture credit A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

(ASO/Pauline Ballet)

A controversial omission from Quick-Step’s Tour line-up in 2022 was followed by a winter of discontent fuelled by uncertainty over his new choice of team (the B&B Hotels set-up would unceremoniously collapse after Cavendish had committed himself to the squad).

Cavendish was thrown a lifeline, however, when Astana came calling, and seemed on the brink of history at least year’s Tour, only for a bouncing chain and broken collarbone standing in the way.

Mark Cavendish wins record 35th Tour de France stage, 2024 Tour de France, stage 5 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

(Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

And while nothing is inevitable in a sport as unforgiving as cycling, Cavendish’s desire to make history, and his retirement U-turn late last year, meant – when it came to the sprints, anyway – the cycling world would wait with bated breath.

Until Cavendish soared through a gap and accelerated away on that gently winding road in Saint-Vulbas.

André Darrigade and André Leducq: 25.

Bernard Hinault: 28.

Eddy Merckx: 34.

Mark Cavendish: 35.

History-maker.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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20 comments

Avatar
Cyclo1964 | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

Absolutely brilliant and that's all I have got to say 👍😊

Avatar
Cayo | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

There's a delightful postscript to this victory with him unshipping his chain as he crossed the line - bit of a middle finger to 2023. Pure Cav!  1

Avatar
ErnieC replied to Cayo | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Cayo wrote:

There's a delightful postscript to this victory with him unshipping his chain as he crossed the line - bit of a middle finger to 2023. Pure Cav!  1

Middle finger sounds about right for him. 

Avatar
Jem PT | 2 weeks ago
1 like

Brilliant! I was so worried he wouldn't make it for whatever reason. I just hope he doesn't withdraw now, as I'm out in France ready to watch Sunday's gravel stage at Troyes and I've got an enormous Union Jack to wave for him!

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Jem PT | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Jem PT wrote:

Brilliant! I was so worried he wouldn't make it for whatever reason. I just hope he doesn't withdraw now, as I'm out in France ready to watch Sunday's gravel stage at Troyes and I've got an enormous Union Jack to wave for him!

Sure you'll see him, if he were to withdraw (which would be out of character) it would surely be after next week: five of the next eight stages are flat, he wouldn't want to pass those up.

Avatar
spen | 2 weeks ago
6 likes

The moment seems to have been lost on me a bit as I was equally impressed by the bunny hop over Mads Pederson

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to spen | 2 weeks ago
2 likes
spen wrote:

The moment seems to have been lost on me a bit as I was equally impressed by the bunny hop over Mads Pederson

I didn't notice that originally but just watched the final again as Mrs H wanted to see it after coming home from work (I did very well not giving away the result!) and saw it, incredible work, who was the rider? Pedersen owes him several pints, he could easily have run straight over his head or neck.

ETA just seen Michael Rasmussen's comment naming the rider - chapeau Alex Zingle.

Avatar
jaymack | 2 weeks ago
8 likes

I did not watch this; I was working. I did not watch this; I was working. I did not watch this; I was working*. An absolutely fantastic achievement, the man really is a legend.

*Some of the statments in this post may be untrue.

Avatar
Surreyrider replied to jaymack | 2 weeks ago
1 like

I did not watch it. I was working. Not celebrating as I'm no fan of him. But fair play to him for that.

* All the sentences above are true. 

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Surreyrider | 2 weeks ago
7 likes
Surreyrider wrote:

Not celebrating as I'm no fan of him.

Good to know, thanks for sharing. I'm not a fan of Association Football but should the England team win the European Championship I'll probably just let people who like it enjoy the moment and go and find something I do like to comment on. Just saying, like...

Avatar
Steve K replied to jaymack | 2 weeks ago
1 like
jaymack wrote:

I did not watch this; I was working. I did not watch this; I was working. I did not watch this; I was working*. An absolutely fantastic achievement, the man really is a legend.

*Some of the statments in this post may be untrue.

I was in a meeting so didn't see it live, but managed to watch the last km as live without knowing what happened.

Avatar
stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
7 likes

I love it when a plan comes together

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Monsieur Michael | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Awesome achievement, Chapeau !!

(Mission accomplished - No one will blame you if you are a DNS tomorrow)

Avatar
Smoggysteve replied to Monsieur Michael | 2 weeks ago
6 likes

I'd love to see that 35 become a 36+ loads of sprint stages left to contest. 

Shame he won't get to finish his career an the Champs Elysees. That would have been a great place to role across the line to finish it all . 

Avatar
Cayo replied to Smoggysteve | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Smoggysteve wrote:

Shame he won't get to finish his career on the Champs Elysees. That would have been a great place to role across the line to finish it all.

But it'll live on in the form of a trivia question.

Avatar
quiff replied to Monsieur Michael | 2 weeks ago
1 like

Agreed, but I just don't think it's in his DNA. Now that he has had a taste, I reckon there might be another. 

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mdavidford | 2 weeks ago
8 likes
mdavidford wrote:

If I had to put money on him finding a win somewhere, though, [winning from a break] on stage 12 looks a better bet, or, more likely, sprinting from a small group after a wind-affected day.

You know nothing...

Avatar
Flintshire Boy replied to mdavidford | 2 weeks ago
6 likes

.

Chapeau to you, too - takes a big man to admit getting it wrong.

.

But me too. I thought there was no way that Cav could win the 35th, 'cos of his age and the speed of the younger sprinters.

.

Am SO DELIGHTED to be 100% wrong!

.

Avatar
quiff | 2 weeks ago
6 likes

Screaming and tears. Absolutely incredible to watch, just surfing the wheels. Chapeau Cav.

Avatar
Flintshire Boy replied to quiff | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

.

Same same. In the street they heard me screaming!

.

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