It was a distant dream, a very unlikely scenario just a few weeks ago, but now Mark Cavendish stands on the verge of history.
The sprinter currently sits on 33 Tour de France stage wins, just one short of the record tally held by Eddy Merckx, the legendary Belgian winning his 34th and last in 1975.
Cavendish wasn't even expected to be racing the 2021 edition of the Tour, but an injury to Deceuninck - Quick-Step's Sam Bennett meant that the 36-year-old was a late call-up and he has stunned the race, winning three of the opening 12 stages.
There are nine stages left of the race and providing Cavendish survives the numerous mountain days in the Pyrenees, then he has up to three more opportunities to equal and potentially surpass Merckx.
Getting through the mountains, however, is no foregone conclusion: he narrowly beat the time cut in Tignes on stage nine, and was aided by four Deceuninck - Quick-Step team-mates on the day the peloton ascended Mont Ventoux twice, the 36-year-old being one of the last riders to finish.
Here, we take a look in closer detail at the upcoming days when Cavendish can write his name into the history books forever.
Stage 13: Nîmes > Carcassonne, July 9
Cavendish was disappointed on stage 12 when a breakaway was allowed to go up the road to contest the finish with Nils Politt scoring his first-ever Grand Tour victory for Bora-Hansgrohe.
Today should see the sprinters involved in the closing kilometres in Carcassone, although it is not a guarantee for a number of reasons.
While the parcours never goes over 207m in the final 150km, the run-in to Carcassone is undulating and lumpy, presenting riders with a lot of chances to attack, whether through a solo move or a select group.
Add to that the fact that only seven teams have won a stage in the 2021 race so far, and given that Cavendish has won three of the four sprint stages, teams are much less inclined to race for a sprint.
Indeed, only Deceuninck - Quick-Step, Alpecin-Fenix and Arkea-Samsic are the three teams who can be relied on to favour a fast finish.
However, should the breakaway be denied and a sprint eventuates, Cavendish has form on his side: in all three sprints he has contested in this Tour, he has won.
And as Jasper Philipsen said after stage 10 when Cavendish won his third stage, there is now an inevitability and acceptance that the Briton, aided by a phenomenal lead-out, will win the sprint stages.
Stage 19: Mourenx > Libourne, July 16
Regardless of how stage 13 plays out, the next time Cavendish can race for the win will be in a week, after the second rest day and after torturous, slow days in the Pyrenees.
As the Tour heads towards stage 20's final time trial in Bordeaux, the peloton will settle in for a traditional transition stage that looks almost certain to end in a sprint.
This region of south-west France is characterised by its long, open and flat roads, and while there are a few tiny bumps in the road in the final 50km of the 207km stage, there is nothing on paper that looks set to deny the sprinters.
It's therefore a near guarantee that should Cavendish get through the Pyrenees unscathed and fresh enough to be competitive, the town of Libourne in the heart of wine-making France will host potential history.
Depending on the result of stage 13, Cavendish could be sprinting for win number 34 or 35.
Stage 21: Chatou > Paris, July 18
The sprinter's world championships, as it is unofficially known, was won by Cavendish four years in a row between 2009 and 2012.
Paris' most famous boulevard, Champs-Élysées has been the setting for some of Cavendish's most memorable and emotional victories, and this year's visit could top the lot.
The processional stage always sees a late breakaway form, but the sprinters can be relied on to pull them back in for a fast finish to determine who wins the final stage after three weeks of racing.
HIs team boss Patrick Lefevere has suggested that should Cavendish win on the Champs-Élysêes for a staggering fifth time, he may even call it a day and retire from the sport, although the man himself has not said anything of the like.
Either way, stage 21 will definitely offer him at least one more chance to win yet another stage of the Tour.
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