Mark Cavendish has won his 34th career stage of the Tour de France this afternoon to draw level with Eddy Merckx as the most successful rider ever at the race in terms of stage wins.
Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates retains the overall lead with a 5 minute 18 second advantage over Rigoberto Uran of EF Education-Nippo.
It was a scrappy end to the 219.9km stage from Nimes, with narrow streets, road furniture and tight corners providing a challenge to the peloton in the closing kilometres.
But Cavendish’s Deceuninck-Quick Step team kept him safe in the finale – with second place today going to his leadout man, Michael Mørkøv, and Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Fenix finished third.
Unlike yesterday, when it became clear early on that Cavendish was not looking to contest the sprint as a break was allowed to head up the road with an advantage of nearly 15 minutes, today’s escapees were kept on a tight leash.
The front trio - Omer Goldstein of Israel Start–Up Nation, Team TotalEnergies rider Pierre Latour (and Sean Bennett of Qhubeka NextHash were swept up well before the finish, however, with Deceuninck-Quik Step and Alpecin-Fenix doing most of the chasing, although the prospect of crosswinds also saw Ineos Grenadiers come to the fore, without splitting the peloton.
With 67km remaining, a big crash resulted in Simon Yates of Team BikeExchange abandoning the Tour – ahead of a weekend in which he would surely have been targeting Sunday’s stage to Andorra, where he is based.
Today, however, belonged to Cavendish – already the most successful sprinter in the 118-year history of the race, assuming he makes it through the Pyrenees, he will have an opportunity to become its most prolific stage winner in his own right in the two remaining flat stages, the last of those in Paris, where he was unbeatable on the Champs-Elysees for four years running from 2009-12.
After missing selection for the past two editions, and struggling through crashes, injury and above all illness as he fought the Epstein-Barr virus before that – until this year, his last win on the race came in 2016 – it’s building up to be a fairytale end to his Tour de France career.
Unless, of course, he’s back next year. We wouldn’t bet against it.
Stage winner Mark Cavendish
It’s one of my hardest wins. I went incredibly deep today with the wind and the heat, but I had an amazing time around me, guys who rode their hearts out to deliver me in a perfect position.
A lot of the day it didn’t feel like it was going to happen, but we gave everything and the guys were phenomenal in the way they controlled things. That’s why it makes me super happy to be able to share this unforgettable moment with them.
The moment I crossed the line the record wasn’t on my mind, I was just happy to have taken another victory.
I can never compare myself with Eddy Merckx, but if those following cycling will be inspired by what I did to get on a bike and just ride, then that’s the most important thing and would give me such a tremendous joy.
As a kid I dreamed about winning a stage at the Tour de France, and having 34 now it’s just unbelievable, something I would have never imagined but for which I worked so hard.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.