With his win in Angers, the 31-year-old Manxman now sits with Hinault in second place with 28 stage victories behind Merckx.
“Why not?” Hinault said before stage four. “He has 28, Eddy Merckx has 34. He will need six and he is not old. He still has the possibility, I think.”
Hinault gave France its last Tour overall win in 1985 and took up work with race organiser ASO after retirement. Belgian Eddy Merckx, who retired in the 1970s, is considered the best cyclist ever with five Tour wins and wins in every monument. Cavendish said he never thought that he would be considered in the same breath as the two greats when he began cycling.
“Why would he not think of that?” added Hinault. “It’s a goal in a career, to say, ‘I am capable of going out in search of this trophy.’ Even if it is not a trophy, because finally they are victories that accumulate one after the other. That is the most beautiful of all about it.”
“Yes, he can do it,” Tour race director Christian Prudhomme explained. “Six stages, you don’t know. He knows the race perfectly, he knows how to win. It will be very hard because he’s 31, but it’s possible. We will know at the end of this Tour, if he stays with 28 or if he is at 29 or 30. Already with two stage wins in three days is great.”
Prudhomme first met Cavendish when he won in the 2007 Volta a Catalunya. He said, “Maybe this won’t be the last time we are together on the podium.”
Cavendish took his first stage win in 2008 in Châteauroux and kept going with three more victories. He returned in 2009 to win six times. In 2012, French newspaper L’Equipe named him as the Tour’s best sprinter of all time.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage three highlights
“Mark is the best sprinter in the history of the Tour, and not only because he has 28 wins. What struck me is that he loves the Tour, he has such a respect for the Tour, for the yellow jersey,” Prudhomme added.
“A few years ago we were in the Tour of Oman, I was next to him and I said there’s André Darrigade, do you know him? He said, ‘Yes, I know, he won 22 stages. André Leducq won 25 stages, Hinault 28, Eddy Merckx 34.’ Wow! And here we were in Oman next to the mosque. So, he has this respect for the Tour.”