Mark Cavendish’s Bid for History: Chasing No. 35 at the 2023 Tour de France

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The world of professional cycling has witnessed many legends, but few stories are as compelling as that of Mark Cavendish.

A career once seemingly over due to health setbacks and a string of misfortunes has blossomed into a tale of resurgence, fueling hopes of a record-breaking 35th stage victory in the Tour de France.

The stakes of Cavendish’s bid for history have been raised further by his recent announcement that he’ll be retiring at the end of the 2023 season, meaning this Tour will be his last.

With the 2023 Tour de France underway, we’re delving into the many layers of Cavendish’s extraordinary comeback, the highlight reel of his remarkable victories, and the challenges that lie ahead in his pursuit of history.

Prepare for a thrilling ride as we chronicle the Manx Missile’s quest for glory at the 2023 Tour.

We’ll be covering:

  • Mark Cavendish: A Legend Reborn
  • The Cavendish Record
  • Key Stages
  • The Tour De France Sprinters
  • Cavendish’s Team

Let’s dive in!

Mark Cavendish at the 2023 Tour de France presentation.
© A.S.O./Etienne Coudret

Mark Cavendish: A Legend Reborn

A Comeback Story

Mark Cavendish’s resurgence is nothing short of inspirational.

A series of setbacks that started in 2017, including a debilitating bout with Epstein-Barr virus and a series of crashes, seemed to mark the end of a storied career.

The 2020 season found Cavendish at Bahrain-McLaren, but it was fraught with further disappointments, from dashed Olympic dreams to a disrupted racing program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of the year, the prospect of retirement loomed large.

However, Patrick Lefevere, the experienced manager of Deceuninck–Quick-Step, offered Cavendish a lifeline.

In what many saw as a gamble, Lefevere reinstated Cavendish into the team where he had enjoyed much of his past success. This decision served as a beacon of hope, reigniting the competitive flame in Cavendish.

Mark Cavendish embraces his teammate after equalling Eddy Merckx' record of 34 Tour de France stage wins.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

The Manx Missile’s Resurgence

The 2021 season marked a remarkable comeback from Cavendish, reminiscent of his prime.

He scored his first professional victories since 2018 at the Tour of Turkey, winning four stages. He followed this with a victory at the Tour of Belgium, underscoring his return to form.

These performances earned him a recall to the squad for the 2021 Tour de France after teammate Sam Bennett was injured.

Cavendish delivered a performance for the ages, winning four stages to match Eddy Merckx‘s record of 34 – and reclaiming the green jersey a decade after his first triumph.

His successes were abruptly halted by a crash at the Six Days of Ghent, but the resilient Manxman bounced back in the 2022 season with victories at Milano–Torino and the Tour of Oman, as well as a triumphant return to the Giro d’Italia.

Mark Cavendish wins Stage 14 of the 2021 Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Aurélien Vialatte

The Cavendish Record Bid

Over his illustrious career, Cav has bagged a remarkable 34 stage victories at the Tour de France, including an unforgettable four-win streak from 2009 to 2012 on the Champs-Elysées.

Surpassing Merckx’s long-standing record would solidify Cavendish’s legacy as arguably the greatest sprinter in the history of cycling.

This lofty goal serves as both motivation and a daunting challenge as he takes on the 2023 Tour.

Here are some of the most memorable wins in his career:

2008 Tour de France: Stage 5

During his second professional year and second Tour de France, a youthful 23-year-old Cavendish clinched his first stage victory, launching his career to unprecedented heights following major wins in Scheldeprijs and two stages of the Giro d’Italia.

He took advantage of a slightly downhill finishing straight and a late attack from Nicolas Vogondy, stealing the win with a long sprint in the middle of the road, defeating competitors Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire, and Erik Zabel.

2009 Tour de France: Stage 19

Despite controversies over irregular sprinting and disputes with Hushovd regarding the green jersey, Cavendish made a robust comeback with a long-range sprint at the end of a challenging stage.

He overcame the late Category 2 climb orchestrated by Rabobank and, thanks to an early assist from Renshaw, left Hushovd et al bashing their bars in frustration.

2011 Tour de France: Stage 5

Following a rough start, Cavendish made a striking comeback, winning a stage that wasn’t ideally suited for him.

The unconventional false flat sprint amongst puncheurs such as Philippe Gilbert, José Joaquin Rojas, and Geraint Thomas didn’t deter Cavendish, who took an early lead and secured the win.

2012 Tour de France: Stage 18

Despite Sky focusing all their resources on defending Wiggins’ yellow jersey, Cavendish’s extraordinary performance on this stage cements it as one of his most memorable victories.

Assisted by Wiggins and Edvald Boasson Hagen, Cavendish’s long sprint allowed him to outpace competitors like Matt Goss and Peter Sagan.

2016 Tour de France: Stage 1

Cavendish secured the prestigious yellow jersey for the first time in his career, despite doubts surrounding his transition from QuickStep to Dimension Data.

After an impressive victory on the opening day, he strategically outraced Marcel Kittel by tracking Sagan and finally overpowering him at the front.

2021 Tour de France: Stage 4

Cavendish, originally not slated to participate, replaced Sam Bennett due to an injury.

He displayed extraordinary resilience, overcoming a five-year victory drought by winning this stage despite Brent Van Moer’s significant lead.

2021 Tour de France: Stage 13

Despite initial setbacks, Cavendish emerged victorious in stage 13, surpassing Michael Mørkøv in the final moments.

The intensity of the win left him more focused on the effort he had to put in rather than equating the victory to the long-standing record of Eddy Merckx.

Mark Cavendish claims a stage victory at the 2021 Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

2023 Tour de France: Key Target Stages for Cavendish

The 2023 Tour de France course is exceptionally challenging.

Throughout the race, it appears to be more mountainous compared to previous years, undoubtedly impacting the abilities and fitness of sprinters. It’s possible that some of them may struggle to meet the time limits on high-altitude finishes.

Nonetheless, there are still six stages where the fast men are expected to shine.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the key stages where Cavendish’s trademark sprinting prowess could steal the show:

Stage 3: Amorebieta-Etxano to Bayonne (193.5 km)

Tour de France 2023: Stage 3 Route Profile
Route Profile: Stage 3 (© La FlammeRouge)

Commencing from Amorebieta-Etxano, famous for the single-day race, Klasika Primavera, this stage will test the riders’ mettle with four early climbs.

The finale, though peppered with false flat sections, seems custom-built for a thrilling bunch sprint.

Stage 4: Dax to Nogaro (181.8 km)

Tour de France 2023: Stage 4 Route Profile
Route Profile: Stage 4 (© La FlammeRouge)

Setting off from the spa town Dax and culminating at the Circuit Paul Armagnac, the racetrack could witness a fierce sprint showdown in its final 3 kilometers.

Eddy Merckx, one of cycling’s greatest, triumphed here in 1974, and Cavendish will be eager to add his name to this illustrious list.

Stage 7: Mont-de-Marsan to Bordeaux (169.9 km)

Tour de France 2023: Stage 7 Route Profile
Route Profile: Stage 7 (© La FlammeRouge)

Known as a sprinter’s playground, the relatively flat route from Mont-de-Marsan to Bordeaux holds promise for Cavendish.

The last time the Tour was in Bordeaux, Cavendish outpaced his rivals to the finish line in 2010. He will be aiming to repeat history on these familiar streets.

Stage 11: Clermont-Ferrand to Moulins (179.8 km)

Tour de France 2023: Stage 11 Route Profile
Route Profile: Stage 11 (© La FlammeRouge)

This stage, characterized by rolling hills in the first half and predominantly flat terrain in the second, could work in favor of the sprinters.

The straight-line final 1.3 kilometers in Moulins sets the stage for a potential sprint showdown.

Stage 18: Moûtiers to Bourg-en-Bresse (184.9 km)

Tour de France 2023: Stage 18 Route Profile
Route Profile: Stage 18 (© La FlammeRouge)

Boasting a nearly flat terrain, this stage is bound to result in a bunch sprint.

The history of Bourg-en-Bresse with sprint finishes, including victories by sprint icons Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen, only adds to the anticipation.

Stage 21: Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to Paris (115.1 km)

Tour de France 2023: Stage 21 Route Profile
Route Profile: Stage 21 (© La FlammeRouge)

The traditional Tour de France finale, a sprint on the illustrious Champs-Élysées, could be the perfect backdrop for Cavendish’s historic 35th win.

Cavendish reigned supreme here from 2009-2012, and the Manx Missile will undoubtedly aim to ignite that past magic as the Tour reaches its final act.

Mark Cavendish sits on the floor after winning a stage at the 2021 Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Cavendish’s Rivals: Key Tour de France 2023 Sprinters

The 2023 Tour de France promises a high-octane contest as Cavendish faces a stiff challenge from a pool of top-tier sprinters.

Wout van Aert

Defending green jersey champion Wout van Aert will be a force to reckon with, having exhibited a splendid all-round performance in the last edition.

Though not an out-an-out sprinter, van Aert possesses a devastating kick. However, the prime source of his threat to Cavendish is arguably as a world-class puncheur – he has the ability to deny the possibility of a bunch finish at all on stages that the sprinters might be targeting.

Although the Belgian superstar has stated that his focus this year is on the World Championships in August, his participation in the Tour is unlikely to be a mere formality.

However, rumors suggest he may exit early to join his wife for the birth of their second child, creating an unpredictable dynamic.

Fabio Jakobsen

Fabio Jakobsen of Soudal-Quickstep could be another serious contender.

Considered one of the fastest sprinters currently, his potential to amass multiple stage wins could prove crucial in thwarting Cavendish’s bid to become the sole record holder.

Jasper Philipsen

Jasper Philipsen from Alpecin-Fenix has shown great form. His ability to survive tough climbs and finish strong puts him in a good position to score consistently, especially on this year’s parcours.

Mads Pedersen

Mads Pedersen from Lidl-Trek, who recorded his first-ever bunch sprint win in the Giro, could also pose a challenge.

The question, however, is whether he can maintain a constant challenge or opt for a stage win from a breakaway.

Biniam Girmay

Biniam Girmay of Intermarché-Circus-Wanty is another intriguing prospect.

Though not a pure sprinter, his ability to handle varied terrain makes him a wildcard entry in the points competition and he could deny the sprinters opportunities on stages with rolling hills.

Caleb Ewan

Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Dstny has had a difficult time since his crash in the 2021 Tour, but his talent is undeniable. Even a single stage win would be a significant achievement given his recent setbacks.

In addition to these competitors, other sprinters like Jordi Meeus, Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, Phil Bauhaus, Sam Welsford, Bryan Coquard, and Corbin Strong will also be eyeing stage wins.

Amidst this fierce competition, Cavendish’s bid for history will be anything but a walk in the park.

Mark Cavendish with members of the Astana team.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Cavendish’s Team

No cyclist wins alone, and Cavendish is no exception. The Astana team, with Cees Bol and Gianni Moscon, will play an essential role in setting Cavendish up for success.

The newly crowned Kazakh national champion, Alexey Lutsenko, along with teammates Luis Leon Sanchez, David de la Cruz, Yevgeniy Fedorov, and Harold Tejada, will be crucial in Cavendish’s historic bid.

Astana’s strategies and tactics, designed to maximize the chances of victory, will focus on keeping him well-positioned during flat stages and ensuring he has the support required in the final sprints.

Back at the team bus, Astana has brought back Cavendish’s legendary lead-out man from years gone by, Mark Renshaw, as a consultant, ensuring that the team’s tactics align with Cavendish’s strengths.

Will Cavendish secure his place in history with a 35th stage win, or will the record elude him forever? Only time will tell.

What challenges do you think lie ahead for him in this Tour de France? And most importantly, do you believe Cavendish can break the record in his final Tour?

Drop your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Quentin's background in bike racing runs deep. In his youth, he won the prestigious junior Roc d'Azur MTB race before representing Belgium at the U17 European Championships in Graz, Austria. Shifting to road racing, he then competed in some of the biggest races on the junior calendar, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, before stepping up to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix as an U23. With a breakthrough into the cut-throat environment of professional racing just out of reach, Quentin decided to shift his focus to embrace bike racing as a passion rather than a career. Now writing for BikeTips, Quentin's experience provides invaluable insight into performance cycling - though he's always ready to embrace the fun side of the sport he loves too and share his passion with others.

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