Mark Cavendish matched Bernard Hinault's Tour de France stage tally of 28 with his stage three victory in Angers, and is second only to cycling great Eddy Merckx with 34 – something he says he never could have imagined.
Dimension Data's sprinter won stage one and put on the yellow jersey for the first time Saturday and on Monday won his second stage in the 2016 race to match Hinault's career haul of 28. He began taking victories in 2008, going home with as many as six in 2009.
"To be honest, when I started my career to think that at any point [I would] be ever mentioned in the same sentence with the great Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault was something more than I ever could have dreamed of," Cavendish said.
"There is no way that I can sit here and compare myself in anyway to these two greats. Without looking at their names, I can look at their numbers: 28 is 28.
"If I'd only won one stage of the Tour de France, it'd make my career. I say this every time. If I win 50, I win 50, but if this is my last ever win, then so be it. I've come to this bike race, I made my career around this bike race.
"Ultimately, I want to be successful in this bike race regardless of all the other great cyclists who've come here and done stuff."
Highlights of stage three of the Tour de France
Merckx and Hinault each won the Tour overall five times. Hinault was the last Frenchman to win the Tour in 1985.
Cavendish, the small, powerful 31-year-old from the Isle of Man, will never win the Tour, but he has done certainly made his mark on the race. He has pulled in stage victories in all three grand tours, won the points jersey in all three, and as of Saturday at Utah Beach, wore the leader's jersey in all three.
Outside the three-week tours, he has won Milan-San Remo, the World Championship road race, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne twice and Scheldeprijs three times. Perhaps the only thing missing for Cavendish is a victory in Ghent-Wevelgem and an Olympic gold medal. This August, he will lead Great Britain in the Omnium and try to add a gold medal to his palmarès.
Dimension Data said that this winter they will sit down with Cavendish to plan out the next targets for 2017 and 2018, his next two contracted years with the South African team.
In the meantime, Cavendish could top Hinault's mark and approach Merckx's.
"If I'm not just going to stop here," he said. "I'm going to try my best to get more."
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