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Mark Cavendish didn’t know he would be racing the Tour de France until a week before the start. At the end of last year, he didn’t even know if he would be racing this season. For four years, he’d been plagued by illness and injury. Most of the cycling world thought his days of winning bike races were over. Few believed that, at 36, he could regain the agility and speed that had carried him to so many victories. He never doubted himself though. His old team Deceuninck-Quickstep decided to give him another shot. Over the winter, he worked very hard to get back to fitness. Four wins in April at the Tour of Turkey showed that he still had a sprint left in his legs. Then Sam Bennett got injured and Cavendish won the final stage at the Tour of Belgium. Deceuninck-Quickstep decided to bring him to the Tour. They had nothing to lose. No one expected that Cavendish would arrive in Paris with four stage victories. What Mark Cavendish has achieved during this Tour de France is one of the great comebacks in sporting history. He is now the Tour de France’s winningest rider, with 34 stage wins to his name, equalling the record set by the great Eddy Merckx. On the podium in Paris, he pulled on his second green jersey. To celebrate, let’s relive his 2021 Tour de France stage victories.

Stage 4

Stage 4 was classic Cav. He had last won a stage at the Tour de France in 2016, but if you saw him in the last kilometre you wouldn’t know he had missed a beat. Lotto-Soudal’s Brent Van Moer came under the red kite solo and looked for a moment as if he might just hold off the peloton. The sprinters weren’t going to be denied though. They caught him with less than 200 metres to go. On the long, uphill drag to the line, Cavendish timed his kick perfectly. He waited for Alpecin-Fenix’s Jasper Philipsen to go, ducked through an almost-impossible gap to get onto his wheel, and then maintained his power long enough to come around Philipsen before the line. “Just being here is special enough, you know,” Cavendish said afterwards. “I didn’t think I’d get to come back to this race. When you come to Deceuninck-Quickstep, they have the best riders in the world, so it wasn’t even a thought to come here, but the stars aligned. So many people didn’t believe in me, but these guys do.”

Stage 6

Stage 6 was always going to be a sprint. The last time the race had finished in Chàteauroux, Mark Cavendish was the winner. That was a decade ago. In 2008, Cavendish had won his very first stage of the Tour in Chàteauroux as well. It was a very fast and nervous day in the peloton. When, the race went under the flamme rouge, Deceuninck-Quickstep took over on the left side of the road, while the other sprinters fought it out on the right. A lighting quick decision in the final metres prompted Cavendish to jump onto the wheel of Jasper Philipsen who was following Tim Merlier. Philipsen went left around Merlier. Cavendish went right and was faster. When he crossed the line, he clasped his head in his hands in disbelief, just as he had done all those years ago when he’d first won in Chàteauroux.

Stage 10

Before he could contest the sprint on stage ten, Mark Cavendish had to get over the Alps. That was a monumental task. It proved too much for several of Cavendish’s rivals. Tim Merlier dropped out. Arnaud Démare and Bryan Coquard couldn’t make the cut. But Cavendish showed he can still stuffer. With the help of his Deceuninck-Quickstep teammates, he managed to cross the Alps on time. After a rest day in Tignes, Stage 10 from Albertville to Valence looked destined to end in a bunch sprint. Not that it would be easy. The course was up and down all day and crosswinds would batter the peloton. Cavendish’s teammates protected him from the start and then gave him a perfect lead out. Cavendish finished it off. "Again, I'm just humbled,” he said afterwards. “I did 150 metres – it was the team I have to thank for everything."

Stage 13

Mark Cavendish insisted he wasn’t concerned about Eddy Merckx’s record. After stage ten, when he’d pulled within one win of matching the Belgian great’s 34 Tour de France stage victories, he said, “Don’t say the name. I am not thinking about anything. I just won a stage in the Tour de France.” It must have been on his mind though. Journalists reminded him of it every chance they could get. So, Cavendish’s 34th stage win was extra special. It came at the end of a scorching 220-kilometre day, from Nîmes to Carcassone in the south of France. With a kilometre to go, it looked as if Deceuninck-Quickstep had the race under control, but then DSM came around them on a turn, and Cavendish was swamped. He didn’t panic. In the melee, he managed to find Michael Mørkøv’s wheel, and then kick towards the line with 100 metres to go. He was gassed, but managed to keep pumping power into his pedals and cross the finish line before the others. Right after he’d crossed the line, Michael Mørkøv came to give him a hug. “We made history,” Cavendish said.