Quentin Batalillon

General News 2024

Mark Cavendish ready to focus on history during the final farewell of the Tour de France

Not for the first time, Sir Mark Cavendish is ready for his final Tour de France and one last chance at a new piece of history.

Twelve months ago, the Manxman had recently announced his impending retirement and headed into what he thought was his final Tour in search of a stage win that would be the 35th of his career, giving him the record after equaling Eddy Merckx at 34 in 2021.

He would come within just a few meters of that victory on stage seven to Bordeaux, hampered by a skipping chain, but a day later Cavendish left the race in an ambulance after breaking his collarbone in a crash.

It was not the way for one of cycling’s all-time greats to end his long association with the race that defined so much of his career. Whether or not he would manage to win a stage, last year’s Tour was supposed to be a lap of honor – a farewell to his favorite race.

Ultimately, it was no surprise that Cavendish was then persuaded by his family and his Astana-Qazaqstan team to continue riding for another year.

So here we go again. Cavendish, recently knighted in the King’s Birthday Honours, will be back at the start.

Astana has focused entirely on Project Cavendish this time.

Last year there were questions about his lead-up train in a team with little sprint history, so this winter they brought in Michael Morkov and Davide Ballerini – two of the riders who helped him win four stages of the 2021 Tour.

Mark Cavendish got his season off to a winning start in Colombia in February, but problems soon followed (Astana-Qazaqstan/Sprint Cycling)

The preparations have been far from perfect. Cavendish, now 39, got off to a strong start to his season with an early win in Colombia, but things quickly went south after that.

He was forced to leave the sprinter’s paradise, the UAE Tour, in February when illness struck. He returned a month later in Tirreno-Adriatico but missed the time gains on a grueling stage in the Apennines, a sure sign that he was still struggling.

But Cavendish put that behind him when he beat Dylan Groenewegen to victory on the second stage of the Tour de Hongrie, a victory that boosted morale for him and the team.

The news from camp is that Cavendish’s power numbers are close to those he produced prior to the 2021 Tour.

In the final days before the Tour, Cavendish was in training camp in Athens, after racing in the Tour de Suisse in the middle week of June.

Cavendish celebrated a stage win in the Tour de Hongrie (Astana-Qazaqstan/Sprint Cycling) in May

Many of his rivals for the Tour sprints – Jasper Philipsen, Fabio Jakobsen, Tim Merlier and Olav Kooij – chose to race on the Baloise Tour.

Cavendish opted for the tougher Swiss race to hone his mountain survival skills, acutely aware of the unusually difficult start to this year’s Tour in Italy.

Tour organizers ASO say there will be eight sprint stages on the route this year, although closer inspection of some of those flatter days suggests the pure sprints will be limited to five.

The competition will be fierce again, but the number of observers suggesting that Cavendish is too old to compete against the fastest riders in the world seems to be decreasing every year – he has now proven too many of them wrong too often.

But whether or not he gets to taste victory champagne again, Cavendish still has a chance to end his Tour career on his own terms.