Relaxed and appreciative Mark Cavendish looks to finish 'hardest Tour de France I've done' by 'leaving a good mark'

The British sprinter will have two more opportunities in the final week

Mark Cavendish
(Image credit: Getty)

Mark Cavendish was the last of the selected Deceuninck - Quick-Step riders to arrive to the Tour de France rest day press conference.

He sat down, smiled across at his boss Patrick Lefevere, nodded at team-mate Julian Alaphilippe, and then looked across at Kasper Asgreen who was engrossed with what looked like a piece of cotton in his hand, twiddling it in his fingers.

Cavendish looked at the laptop in front of him, showing more than 50 journalists waiting to hear what he's got to say.

He can be grumpy, reluctant to divulge even the most basic information, but this Tour de France has seen the best in Cavendish. 

Winning, yes - all four of his stages producing a groundswell of emotion and congratulations - but also in his personality. He is happy to talk and he's more philosophical than ever.

"Before this Tour, it was the least stressed I'd ever been coming into the Tour de France because I didn't know I was coming," he reminds the press.

"The last couple of months I knew I had a two-month break coming up but thought I may as well prepare as if I'm coming to the Tour in case I am needed and ultimately I was.

"I don't train for gran fondos: I train to do a job. I went to race them and to get stronger in sprints. It came good and because there's no pressure, I could get on with my training."

His four wins in this year's Tour have pushed him level on 34 stage wins with Eddy Merckx. He is asked how each win ranks in his career: not in terms of emotion or context, but in actual performance.

"They've all been different," he says. "There's been ones where I had an absolutely exemplary lead-out as planned and ones where we have had to improvise the lead out and done that.

"The last one in Carcassone was an absolute classic for the last 60km of the race. I always had guys in front of me. That's what made me rip my legs to pieces in the end. I had to finish it off.

"How do I rank them? You can't rack Tour de France victories, but what is certain is that I wouldn't have done it without these lads behinds me. And that's for sure."

He should be thankful. His Deceuninck - Quick-Step team-mates have been immense. But, still, he is so keen to press home the point of what it means to him.

"I have the strongest lead-out train by a long way in the world," he claims. You can't disagree.

The next few stages sees the race tackle multiple climbs in the Pyrenees. Cavendish has struggled in recent mountain stages, but just about made the time cuts.

Mark Cavendish on stage 15 of the 2021 Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It appears that the only way he won't win a second green jersey is if he finishes too late one day.

It must be a worry. "I'm nervous every day with the time limit. There's nothing we can do about it," he reasons.

"But I think we have to get through it as best as possible. I don't like to pre-empt how the stages will go, but the toughest ones have definitely passed us.

"There's this misconception that the gruppetto rides in laughing and joking with each other but it's relentless. 

"I am just so lucky I have the guys who stay with me. It's become more scientific and now you can plan the power to weight you can stay at, what energy you can use each part of the stage and ride without yourself. 

"But you've still got to be on it all day. It's probably the hardest Tour de France I've ever done. Hopefully I should be OK."

Providing he passes the mountains, stage 19 and 21 offers him the chance to surpass Merckx's number and be a standalone record holder.

"Everyone wants to leave a mark on the world at some point, but at the same time it has to be a good mark that inspires people, you know," Cavendish says. "It needs to give people hope and joy.

"Winning again is the same ambition I had to win one 13 years ago. Every opportunity for a sprint I want to win. That's why I am here to try and perform."

He's asked if he really believed he would be sitting here, two weeks on, with four stage wins and a convincing lead in the points classification. 

He uses his boss to add weight to his answers. "If I wasn't able to win Tour de France stages I wouldn't be here. That's right, boss, no?"

Relaxed. Cavendish is going in search of history.