'I don’t think I can ever be compared to the great Eddy Merckx': Cavendish opens up about equalling Tour de France record

Standing above all stats and records is Cavendish's love and respect for the sport

Mark Cavendish
(Image credit: Getty)

"I don’t think I can ever be compared to the great Eddy Merckx, the greatest male road cyclist of all time, but I think to equal the number of stage victories...and I think for someone who doesn’t follow cycling a lot, it’s something they can put into perspective. For the people who don’t really follow cycling, if it can inspire them to get on a bike, if a British rider has done that, that’s the biggest thing I can take from it I guess."

Finally, a proper answer to the Merckx question that has followed Cavendish around all Tour de France. The sprinter rightly pointed out that he's not been allowed to savour each of the first three victories in this race as he thundered towards number 34. In his flash interview straight after the stage, Cavendish said it was more applicable to compare him with André Darrigade, who won his 22 Tour stages in bunch sprints, rather than Merckx's dominance over mountains, against the clock and in sprints. In some ways, this milestone was just another reminder that Mark Cavendish is the greatest sprinter in Tour de France history.

"There always is but that’s part and parcel of being a leader," Cavendish goes on to elaborate on if he feels added pressure to win when being led out by the flawless Deceuninck - Quick-Step lead-out. "Shouldering the responsibility of the team, the work that others put in. It’s not just having the legs to sprint, it’s having the head to deal with the pressure. 

"Ironically, the sprinters probably do the least amount of work of anybody in the Tour de France and in most cases they get paid the most money of most guys, except for obviously the guys who can get top 10 in GC. 

>>> ‘You can clearly say Mark is the best sprinter there ever was,’ says Michael Mørkøv as Cavendish equals Tour de France record

"That’s what you get paid for, is to shoulder that expectation, and even if the team doesn’t deliver, you're expected to deliver. What I'm fortunate in is my team deliver every single time. It puts the pressure on me, it puts the pressure on Sam Bennett. Sometimes it can be hard, especially if you don’t feel great. But like today when you run things 1-2 [on the stage result] with your lead-out man at the Tour de France, that’s special, that was nice, that was a memorable one, one of the hardest, but a memorable one."

Michael Mørkøv explains he understands why Cavendish has done his best to avoid talking about it, the last thing you need in a bunch sprint is to be thinking of the history you could be about to make.

"I can understand Cav, he pushes it away, it's something you don't want to be having mind games about. Now, he's equalled Eddy Merckx, it's amazing, as a sporting fan as well, if I wasn't his team-mate, I think it's special that a rider equalled this legend, Eddy Merckx," Mørkøv said.

"It's some history isn't it? He's broken a 50-year record. Having said that, Merckx won his stages differently, so you can say that Mark is the best sprinter we've seen in cycling."

Cavendish says he wishes all of the team-mates he's won at the Tour with since 2008 could be with him to celebrate, and he'd probably spend hours hugging each one of them individually.

The sprinter goes on to talk about how great the reception has been from the roadside public this Tour de France, and that's what he missed during his absence from the race. One journalist then remarks that he seems to have mellowed, especially with the media.

"I'm not going to lie, sometimes I think I've been personally picked at, but on the same level, I think I've also been a prick," Cavendish serving up bangers once again for those attended to knock out of the park. "But that’s what happens when you're young and I think for many years I suffered the consequence of being brash and young without an education compared to the media I guess.

"And as you get older you get a family, responsibilities, you learn to behave, and unfortunately some people didn’t want to let go of what I was like when I was young even though I had changed. 

"It maybe took time away for me to get that chip off my shoulder and the press to get the chip off their shoulder. And as you can see I'm a grown-up now, I'm 36, I'm not a 20-year-old who wanted to fight the world."

Now, there's no one left to fight. There is just Mark Cavendish and the history books. But for now, Cav is keeping them shut.

"We've still got work to do tomorrow. We don’t have time to kind of reflect on it. There’s plenty of time after this Tour de France for the history we've made."

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.