Mark Cavendish has his sights on Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 career stage wins in the Tour de France after landing his third stage win in six days here, lifting his victory tally to 29 stages, one clear of the five-times overall winner Bernard Hinault.
After Monday’s photo finish, Cavendish had a more generous margin over the German Marcel Kittel, victor on Tuesday in Limoges, and his fellow Briton Dan McLay, who is improving day by day in his first attempt at the race.
In a chaotic finish, with no team able to take control in the final few kilometres, Cavendish based his sprint on Kittel, and he sprang off the German’s wheel in the final 200m, overhauling him rapidly, with McLay leaving his effort even later, and accelerating even more rapidly to draw virtually level with Kittel on Cavendish’s right.
Unlike his narrow victory in Angers on Monday, the Manxman had enough time to look to his left to reassure himself that Kittel was well behind. “I knew I had to get Kittel’s wheel, he’s so much bigger than me, and if you get a slingshot off his wheel, you can go about three kilometres an hour faster,” said Cavendish, who had to function without his usual lead-out in the final kilometres. It did not faze him, however. “When I was young, 90% of the time I won without a team,” he said.
The victory put him back in the green points leader’s jersey, although that is not on his hit list this year.
It is four years since the 2011 world champion won three stages in the Tour and he has never been so successful this early in the race; his wins tend to come later when the opposition tires. He will target the omnium and team pursuit at the Rio Olympics, but prior to that he has repeatedly said he will do all he can to complete the Tour.
The mountain stages begin on Friday, but he will have another three or four opportunities, and with his confidence sky high he has every chance of drawing closer to Merckx’s tally, although he would not speculate on that.
“The history of the Tour de France shows that just one stage win can make a rider’s career. I like to give the race the respect it deserves and not think about the numbers,” he said. “I’m just looking to win more, to win as much as possible.”
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