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Eddy Merckx is fine with Mark Cavendish getting close to his Tour record, he promises

Joe Robinson
6 Jul 2021

Manx sprinter needs two more victories to tie Merckx's record of 34 Tour stages

If one month ago you had said Mark Cavendish would be within touching distance of Eddy Merckx's Tour de France stage victory record, you would have likely been laughed out of a room that included both Cavendish and Merckx.

But heading into the second week of this year's Tour, it is a distinct possibility.

Cavendish already finds himself a double stage winner, the fastest sprinter in the race and now just two wins away from matching Merckx's Tour record of 34 stage wins. And with half of his sprint rivals already at home having failed to survive a brutal first week and the rest soldiering on with depleted teams, Cavendish and Deceuninck-QuickStep are in pole position when it comes to the remaining flat stages.

Which means that Merckx is now having to deal with the fact that his long-standing record is truly at risk, something we are not sure Merckx is particuarly cool with. 

'To be honest, I no longer believed in his comeback,' Merckx told Sporza in an interview on the Tour's first rest day. 'Miracles can sometimes happen in cycling. I think that's such a miracle. If he comes closer, then he has earned it.'

For the 76-year-old, the reason for Cavendish's career Indian Summer has been his return to the Belgian Deceuninck-QuickStep team.

'Cavendish is a fantastic and jovial boy,' Merckx continued. 'He is now in a team where he is revived. Being in a team with a good atmosphere and where the people hang out, you can always outdo yourself there.'

This team spirit was laid bare for all to see on Stage 9 to Montee de Tignes. While other sprinters failed to make the time cut – including Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard – Cavendish was paced to the finish line to perfection by teammates Michael Morkov and Tim Declercq. 

Once across the line, Cavendish embraced his two teammates in tears, overwhelmed by the help they had offered him throughout the stage.

The Tour resumes with Stage 10 to Valence on Tuesday, a course that should present Cavendish with another opportunity for a victory. From there, the sprinters will likely have to wait until Stage 19 to Libourne for their next opportunity before the final stage to Paris.

If the Manxman were to take victories both today and on Stage 19, this would leave him with the remarkable opportunity of clutching the record on the Champs-Élysées, a sprint finish Cavendish dominated earlier in his career. But for now, Cavendish is adamant he is not focusing on the record, instead just cherishing the fact he is back racing at the Tour.

As for Merckx, he is clearly happy for Cavendish but to say he is not at all peeved by the fact his record is up for grabs would be a lie. After all, the man they called 'The Cannibal' was not famed for taking defeat very well.

So it comes as no surprise that even in Merckx's congratulations he finds the opportunity to point out some of the differences in how they went about winning their stages 

'Of course they are all bunch sprints. I won 34 stages in all areas, including uphill. But it won't change anything, I won't start again,' said Merckx, (partly) through gritted teeth.