Michael Mørkøv has revealed that he feared Mark Cavendish would miss the time cut in one of the Tour de France's mountain stages.
The Deceuninck - Quick-Step sprinter has enjoyed a remarkable Tour, winning four sprint stages and holding a commanding lead in the points classification with just Saturday's time trial and Sunday's processional stage in Paris to go.
But the Briton has struggled through the Alps and Pyrenees, surrounded by a number of teammates who aided him up and over the multitude of climbs, including the Col du Tourmalet on Thursday that he admitted he "despised".
Mørkøv, who is Cavendish's last man in the lead-out train, has been by the sprinter's side throughout the race, and after stage 19 expressed relief that they would be making it to the French capital.
"I have huge respect for how he managed himself in the mountain stages," Mørkøv said. "I was doubting that he would pass these stages but he was really strong."
"100 per cent [he was afraid he'd miss a time cut]. Cav came here without preparation for the Tour de France.
"Of course he had prepared himself for racing, but he was never supposed to do the Tour, so to come here, the hardest race of the year with some of the hardest mountains there are, I was afraid he wouldn't make it to Paris.
"We took it day-by-day, every day we made good tactics, and we stayed with him, paced him through, and I am really proud what he did and also how hard he [worked] himself."
Despite stage 19's flat parcours, that took the peloton due north from the edge of the Pyrenees to the wine-making region of south-west France, Matej Mohorič won the stage from a large breakaway, denying Cavendish the chance to win a record-breaking 35th Tour stage.
"It was pretty much what we expected," Mørkøv conceded. "We have to pick our fights and now we go all-in for Paris.
"When the break was gone, there were a lot of teams chasing but when they definitely gave up, we had 80km to go and so it was nice to take it a bit easier to the finish and recover from the mountain stages. I'm looking forward to a sprint on the Champs-Élysées on Sunday."
The 21st stage of the Tour will, barring disaster in Saturday's time trial, crown Tadej Pogačar as the winner of the race for the second year running.
Attention, however, will be fixated on Cavendish's attempts to surpass Eddy Merckx as the winner of the most Tour stages in history.
"I feel we have no pressure," added Mørkøv, who will fly to Tokyo to compete in the Madison at the Olympics after the race. "He has won four stages.
"We couldn't, before the race started, have expected this from him. It's already a fairytale.
"He has already equalled Merckx's record, so if he makes it 35 or not, for him, and for me, it doesn't change a lot. But we are in it for the win on Sunday."
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