'It's really the only target I have left': Cavendish taking aim at yellow and Merckx's stage record

Manx sprinter aiming to take first yellow jersey of race and reach Eddy Merckx's record of 34 Tour stage wins

Mark Cavendish wins stage three of the 2018 Dubai Tour
(Image credit: LaPresse - Ferrari / Paolone)

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) does not have much left in his career to aim for, but one target that keeps him interested is the all-time stage win record in the Tour de France.

Cav will have a shot at history again this year when the 2018 Tour starts in Vendée region with a sprint stage Saturday. Currently having 30 stage wins to his name, he can nearly stretch his arms out and reach Eddy Merckx's record of 34 stage wins.

"In terms of races I can physically win, I've pretty much done everything... It's really the only target I have left. It seems so close yet it is a big distance away," Cavendish said.

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"I always say one stage makes a rider's career, let alone multiple stages or multiple stages in multiple years. It's harder than it looks but fortunately I'm in a place with Dimension Data where they trust I'll do everything I can to do it and they support me, and put a team behind me to do it.

"If it's not this year so be it, but I'll try to get it before the end of my career, that's for sure."

Cavendish took his first stage win in 2008 in Châteauroux. He returned in 2009 to win six times and such has been his rapid rise and fast kick, in 2012 French newspaper L'Equipe named him as the Tour's best sprinter of all time.

Now aged 33, Cavendish knows each year is precious. Some years have gone flat, such as in 2017 when he went home empty-handed after a controversial crash in stage four with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).

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It was quite different than in 2016, when he began with a win and, for the first time, put on the race's famous yellow jersey.

That year, he caught and passed Frenchman Bernard Hinault in second, with 28 stage wins. With the four victories in 2016 he reached the 30 mark.

However Cavendish is running out of time to reach Merckx's record. He could race three more Tours, through 2020 when he will also aim at the Tokyo Olympics in the Madison.

Competition is growing, too. Cavendish will face new Tour rival Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and others like Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb).

"Realistically, there are six sprint stages and a few more for guys who can go up hills more easily than me," he continued.

He faces doubters. He has not won much since leaving the 2016 Tour de France, just four times in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tours.

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Often, he proves the critics wrong. This time the fight is to come back from his shoulder fracture at the 2017 Tour and rib fractures in three crashes this 2018 season.

"I can't really put the weight on it to get so far over the handlebars as I did, I can't pull on the handlebars like I did," he said of his shoulder injury.

"I'm not the first person to have an injury. You try and deal with it and I'll make sure I'm stronger elsewhere in my body."

Cavendish built up to the Tour de France with two races in the Tour of Slovenia and Adriatica Ionica, and of course the British Championships.

"It couldn't have been as bad as last year for sure," he said. "I've had a lot longer than four or five weeks to prepare and I feel good. I base every season around being good in July and I think I'm in the best form of the year."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.