Tour de France analysis: Why Cavendish is one of the modern greats

With victory in Saint-Fargeau on Wednesday, Mark Cavendish equalled Barry Hoban’s British record of eight Tour de France stage wins in double quick time.

And if he wins another stage in this Tour, he’ll become the first sprinter to win five in a single Tour since the Belgian Freddy Maertens in 1981.

That year Bernard Hinault also won five stages, but you can’t call him a sprinter. Likewise, Laurent Fignon (1984) and Lance Armstrong (2004) have also won five stages in modern Tours. In 1976 Maertens won eight stages, which is a joint record.

Take a look at the list of riders who have won four or more stages in a single Tour de France.

Cavendish has already equalled last year’s tally of four wins, backing up his debut year in a way that no other modern sprinters have managed. So, how does he compare to the modern greats of Tour de France sprinting?

Last year he won in Chateauroux on stage five, then in Toulouse three days later, before clinching back-to-back wins in the south in Narbonne and Nimes. By stage 13, he’d won his four stages.

This year he has won four stages in even fewer days, notching his fourth win at the end of Wednesday’s 11th stage.

The speed with which Cavendish has won his eight stages is unparalleled in the modern era. Even Mario Cipollini, who won 12 Tour stages, only bagged four in a single Tour once, and one of those was as a result of a jury, who disqualified Tom Steels from first place for dangerous riding in the sprint.

Cavendish made his Tour de France debut in London two years ago and has pinned a number to his back for 34 days of racing at the Tour so far. On eight of those days, he’s been victorious.

We look back at the past 25 years and look at the sprinters who have dominated the Tour de France. Cipollini, Zabel and McEwen have all won 12 stages. But it is interesting to note how long it took them each to win eight stages.

Cipo first rode the Tour in 1992, winning his first stage in 1993. His eighth win came in his sixth Tour. Zabel and McEwen each bagged their eighth wins in their seventh Tours. Cavendish has eight wins in three Tours.

Mario Cipollini
1993 – 1
1995 – 2
1996 – 1
1997 – 2
1998 – 2
1999 – 4
The flamboyant Italian won four-in-a-row in 1999, but didn’t actually cross the line first for one of them, but was given the victory after Tom Steels was disqualified.

Erik Zabel
1995 – 2
1996 – 2
1997 – 3
2000 – 1
2001 – 3
2002 – 1

Robbie McEwen
1999 – 1
2002 – 2
2004 – 2
2005 – 3
2006 – 3
2007 – 1

Jean-Paul Van Poppel
1987 – 2
1988 – 4
1991 – 1
1992 – 1
1994 – 1
The Flying Dutchman, no part of the managerial team at Cervelo, was the outstanding sprinter of the 1988 Tour, winning four stages.

Tom Steels
1998 – 4
1999 – 3
2000 – 2
The Belgian was prolific, winning four stages in 1998, his second attempt at the Tour and going on to win nine in total.

Mark Cavendish
2007 – 0
2008 – 4
2009 – 4
No sprinter in the past 25 years has won four stages in consecutive Tours. Alessandro Petacchi won four stages in 2003, but they were his only wins.

Djamoladine Abdujaparov
1992 – 2
1993 – 3
1994 – 2
1995 – 1
The sprinter from Uzbekistan rode the Tour in 1990 and 1991 before netting his first win in 1992. Abdu also won a stage in 1996, but it was from a small breakaway, not a big sprint finish.