Mark Cavendish will retire from professional cycling at the end of the current season so has one last opportunity to break the record for the most Tour de France stage wins.
The Manxman currently shares the record with Eddy Merckx so ahead of the 2023 Tour de France we assess how the records of the two great riders compare.
Merckx’s record of 34 had stood since 1975, when he claimed his last two stage wins on his penultimate appearance in the race.
Cavendish had long looked on course to challenge that mark, reaching 30 during the 2016 Tour, but was winless for the following two years and did not ride had not ridden in the event for the next two years.
He was only added to Deceuninck-Quickstep’s team for the race in 2021 as a late replacement for the injured Sam Bennett but took full advantage of that chance, winning stages four, six, 10 and 13 to move level with Merckx in the all-time standings.
Merckx got there slightly quicker, with Cavendish competing in his 13th Tour compared to only seven for Merckx – though the Manxman has contested only eight more stages, winning 34 out of 193 for a strike rate of better than one in six.
His best year came in 2009 with six stage wins – two short of Merckx’s all-time record of most Tour de France stage wins in one year which was eight in both 1970 and 1974, joining Charles Pelissier (1930) and Freddy Maertens (1976) atop the list.
Merckx also won six stages on two other occasions while Cavendish won five each in 2010 and 2011 and four in 2008, 2016 and 2021. Three in 2012, two the following year and one in 2015 complete his set.
The next rider on the list of Tour de France stage wins is Bernard Hinault, with 28 between 1978 and 1986 including seven in 1979. Andre Leducq (25), Andre Darrigade (22) and Nicolas Frantz (20) are the only other riders to reach 20.
The contents of Merckx’s wardrobe, though, are what truly set him apart from Cavendish.
While the British rider finished with the green jersey in 2011 and 2021, Merckx was a serial winner and is viewed among the Tour’s all-time greats.
On his debut in 1969, the Belgian won the yellow jersey as the overall race winner, the green as top sprinter and the King of the Mountains and combination classifications as well as the combativity award – he remains the only rider ever to sweep the major classifications.
He went on to win the yellow jersey in his first five Tour appearances up to 1974, opting not to compete in 1973, and added further green jerseys in 1971 and 1972 and the 1970 mountains classification.
Even on his two remaining appearances, he finished second and sixth in the general classification – Cavendish, for all his sprint pedigree including three runner-up finishes in the points, has never finished in the top 100 overall and has completed only seven of his 13 Tours.
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