Mark Cavendish is on the hunt for one more stage win at the Tour de France 2021 after successfully making it through the final Pyrenean mountain stage on Thursday.
The Manxman finished dead last on stage 18 to the summit finish on Luz Ardiden, surrounded by four of his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team-mates. Most importantly, the 36-year-old finished over six minutes inside the time cut for the stage.
It's been a gruelling Tour for Cavendish despite his four stage victories so far, having been a late call-up to the Belgian squad and not completely prepared for the high mountain passes he'd have to face over the three weeks of the Tour. Week three in the Pyrenees has been especially brutal, with three back-to-back mountain days since the rest day including the summit finishes to Col du Portet and Luz Ardiden on stages 17 and 18. On climbing the Col du Tourmalet, where he was dropped on the early slopes on stage 18, he said: "I’ve done this climb 10 times, and every time I have despised it."
Cavendish will now relish the prospect of two sprint stages in the final three days of the race, the first coming on Friday's 207km stage 19 to Libourne, and the second on Champs-Élyées in Paris on Sunday's concluding stage.
"It could have been a lot easier than it has been…" Cavendish said on his final day in the mountains.
"It was touch and go the whole day. BikeExchange went hard in the climb before the intermediate sprint, and burnt so many matches there. The group was away with many people and myself and Michael Mørkøv got the points ahead of Matthews.
"My stage was done. I’ve done this climb [the Tourmalet] 10 times, and every time I have despised it. I’m grateful my team-mates helped me out. I got a bit emotional because my team-mates help me go through so much in this Tour de France.
"I’d like to try to win at least a stage. But I’d like to stay in the bunch for one day at least."
As well as his four stage wins, and the prospect of breaking Eddy Merckx's stage record with another victory, Cavendish is also in pole position to take his second green jersey victory. He now leads the competition by 38 points over Michael Matthews in second, and another stage win should be enough to seal the classification.
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