Against All Odds, Mark Cavendish Leaves the World in Awe

"If you need a lesson in the value of persistence... allow this race, this stage win, this man, to be your teacher." 


BY MICAH LING |

The 3rd of July 2024, should now forever be known as Sir Mark Cavendish Day. The Manx Missile now holds the record for most Tour de France stage wins of all time, surpassing Eddy Merckx, who had 34 wins; Bernard Hinault, who had 28 wins; Andre Leduicq, with 25 wins; and Andre Darrigade, with 22 wins.

A 35th Tour de France stage win for Cav was on everyone’s minds since the start of this race, and honestly, since he crashed out of the Tour last year in Stage 8. We just needed him to come back to his old self. And while some said it couldn’t be done, that he’s too old and past his prime, most were quietly rooting for this final victory.

At 39, Cavendish is the second oldest cyclist ever to win a stage of the Tour de France. (Behind Pino Cerami, who won 1963’s ninth stage at forty-one years old.) And now we see that with age comes experience, wisdom, and sometimes, more to fight for.

“We’ve done exactly what we wanted to do. Every little detail has built towards today.”

Stage 5 took us from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne 177 km to Saint-Vulbas. And in the final sprint, there was a slow build. Cav was a bit boxed in, but he was in the mix. Astana Qazaqstan’s teammates were there to help. The Manx Missile was calm and patient. He cut from right to left and pulled ahead of Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin–Deceuninck). Mastery. Wizardry. Legend stuff. Then, nothing but joy and celebration.

“If I talk too long, I’ll start crying. I can’t believe it,” said Phill Liggett, who is now commentating on his 52nd Tour de France and is the one to nickname Cavendish the Manx Missile.

Cav was happily interrupted in his post-race interview by many riders stopping by for a hug. “Astana took a big gamble… you have to go all in,” said an emotional Cavendish. “But we’ve done it. We’ve done exactly what we wanted to do. Every little detail has built towards today. This doesn’t mean we’ll be at the top of the UCI rankings, but the Tour de France is bigger than cycling, isn’t it?”

In a post-race interview, Teammate Michael Mørkøv, who helped position Cav for the final sprint, said, “[Cav] is one of these riders who can pull out something amazing. Since joining Astana, I was 100 percent sure that if we could just one time bring him within sight of the finish line, I know we have something special in him that will pull this victory off. And he did.”

Christian Vande Veleen, reporting live from the Tour via moto, said, “I was speechless for a while that did happen. I had to see it on the big screen for confirmation. This is one of those things I always had faith would happen; I just didn’t know when it would happen.

“The setting here? We’re in the middle of nowhere. This is the most nondescript place I’ve ever seen for a stage win… this is a surreal day. That’s what I’ll remember most about this day. Standing pretty much in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere and Cav making history.”

Orla Chennaoui, commentator for Eurosport Cycling, said, “If you need a lesson in the value of persistence, of tenacity, in the merit of sheer, bloody-minded hard work, allow this race, this stage win, this man, to be your teacher. One Tour de France stage is enough to make a rider’s career, and 35 is enough to make a legend. Arise, Sir Mark.”

Bicycling writer Whit Yost said, “My favourite part was Cav saying ‘I love you’ to so many men at the finish. And not in a pithy platitude kinda way.”

Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, who is covering stage recaps for Bicycling, said, “Like so many other cycling fans, I stared in silence at those images of Mark Cavendish being loaded into the back of the van, holding a broken collarbone [last year]. Today, I’m left speechless in an entirely different way. Congrats, Cav, and thank you for never giving up.”

In the awards ceremony immediately following the stage, Cav brought his kids onto the podium. And in case you hadn’t already been crying, good luck holding back at that image. This man and his family have put so much into this sport. And it’s so, so good to see them happy.

Cav has not only overcome last year’s disappointment but also wrestled with many demons to get to today. In the Netflix documentary Mark Cavendish: Never Enough, Cav and those close to him recounted such setbacks as debilitating crashes, followed by a seemingly endless spiral of health obstacles, including disordered eating, depression, and Epstein-Barr, which took entirely out of elite racing for nearly five years.

READ MORE: What Mark Cavendish Has Been Through

But today, it was only victory. Cav has found calm, peace, and success. Now, the only question is, can he go for 36?

Mark Cavendish being thronged by interviewers after winning stage 5 of the 2024 Tour de France
Photo: A.S.O./ Charly Lopez

READ MORE ON: 2024 Tour de France Mark Cavendish Tour de France

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