You possibly can chart the rise, fall and rise once more of Mark Cavendish’s profession by 14 years of Julys. Over that span, the Manx sprinter has gained 34 levels of the Tour de France, equalling a document set by Eddy Merckx in 1975. That document seemed like it could be, eternally, untouchable – like Merckx’s place as the best rider of all time.
Instances change. Marianne Vos staked her declare on the GOAT title; a plucky little nugget of muscle from the Isle of Artificial a fairytale comeback within the twilight of his profession to settle the Tour stage-win rating.
Again in 2008, Cavendish was using in his second Tour de France after a torrid first outing the yr earlier than that had seen him depart empty handed, crashing out of the race by stage 8.
By the top of the 2008 Tour, although, the brash younger Cavendish had change into a family identify. He snared 4 levels that yr, six in 2009, 5 in 2010, 5 in 2011, three in 2012, two in 2013, one in 2015, 4 in 2016. After which got here the drought.
Cavendish’s lengthy hole between wins on the Tour noticed his star fade as he weathered sickness and contract uncertainty. In 2019 and 2020, he went winless – not simply on the Tour; anyplace in any respect. On the shut of final season, at Gent-Wevelgem, a teary Cavendish puzzled aloud whether or not he’d simply ridden his final race.
Thrown a lowly-paid lifeline by Deceuninck-QuickStep, the 2021 Tour de France wasn’t on his agenda. However when Cavendish was known as up late to interchange final yr’s inexperienced jersey winner, Sam Bennett, the questions began early, and with them, a rising weight of expectation.
Are you able to win a stage? Are you going for the document?
As we now know, Cav gained a stage, and one other, and one other, and one other. You wouldn’t guess in opposition to extra.
The veteran sprinter has remembered some outdated classes, and learnt some new ones. “I’m a grown-up now. I’m 36 years outdated, I’m not a 20-year-old boy desirous to struggle the world,” he mentioned right this moment.
The 36-year-old Cavendish has damaged a 46-year-old document, and there’s a satisfying arc to how he bought there – though his strengths and Merckx’s are vastly totally different, making a fair comparability pointless.
However the quantity’s a giant factor. Nonetheless, although Cavendish appears to recognise the enormity of the second, there’s nonetheless work to be executed. “We don’t have time to mirror on it,” he mused, considering of the Pyrenees that lie between his subsequent two possibilities for a stage win. “There’s loads of life left after this to mirror on what we’ve executed and on the historical past we’ve made.”
The e book isn’t completed, however that chapter – the Merckx chapter – has, so it appears becoming to have a look again at these 34 wins. A visible document of when an abrasive child in his twenties sped into the highlight, and underneath the gaze of the world grew right into a 36-year-old man.