The 36-year-old British sprinter achieved his fourth victory in Carcassonne in this edition, with which he equaled the Belgian’s 34 triumphs.
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“We have done it! We have made history!” Mark Cavendish, swollen as ever, king of the world in Carcassonne, the jewel of Occitania, uncorks his joy and distributes it among his companions. “We have made history!”, Man’s Missile insists loudly, although history will only pick up its name, already located at a height that seemed unattainable, that of Eddy merckx, 34 partial victories each of them in the Tour de France. The impossible record fell after his fourth win in this edition, a resounding resurrection of a great champion who cycling had long since taken for granted. Even he, in certain moments of weakness, was tempted to throw in the towel. But he managed to destroy his demons to, at 36, inscribe his name next to that of ‘Cannibal’. And he still has Tour to leave him behind. The Champs Elysées will be a wonderful setting to achieve it.
Cavendish had stopped the scoring at 30 wins in 2016, five years ago, just before his meteoric career began to go awry. It had returned to its peak, reached between 2008 and 2011, with 20 victories, at a rate of five a year, after a couple of more discreet courses. “In sports they bury you very quickly, they immediately tell you that you are old or that you are not worth it. Something like this happened to Cavendish. When he joined Dimension Data in 2016, they already considered him almost back, the Quick Step [hoy Deceuninck] nor did he make an effort to renew it. Well, that first year with us he won four stages on the Tour “, he recalls Igor Antn, former teammate of the British in the South African team.
The Vizcano does not share a bad word from ‘Cav’, away, he says, from the stereotype of a great haughty and arrogant sprinter. “On the contrary,” Antn replies. “Look, I’ll tell you an anecdote. We hardly ran together because we had different calendars, but at the end of 2016, I had to help him in an Italian race, and I was delighted, for a ‘sprint’ in which He came second. He came later and asked me about my future. I told him that I hadn’t renewed yet and he answered, “I’m going to call the manager to have you renewed now.” I think they would have done it anyway, but that detail, with what little we met and being a climber, it gives you an idea of the kind of person he is. It makes me very happy that he has returned to being who he was. “
“He took great care of himself”
Cavendish’s magic was broken in 2017. It started in February with good results and even a victory in what is now the Emirates Tour, but lost the punch. “His problems began with a mononucleosis that prevented him from performing at his level and he could no longer be what he was again. The most normal thing in his case, with the palmars he had and with his life and even that of his grandchildren solved, there would be It was to give up cycling and go home. But he was a great champion and he still had a tremendous desire. He took great care of himself and trained phenomenally. But of course, later in competition everything is different, “continues Antn.
While the world already considered Cavendish a sports corpse (a victory in 2018, none in 2019 and 2020), the Briton was fighting against himself. In April 2020, I discovered that I had been dealing with depression for two years, since August 2018, when it was diagnosed. “He is a person who has lived at a high speed, surrounded by people who have always applauded him. It can be hard to assimilate that you are no longer doing well and manage anxiety. He feels that his cycling was running out,” sums up the Basque, retired in 2018 but still in contact with his old partner.
After that, you know, he seriously considered retirement and ended up looking for a last chance at the Deceuninck, seeking funding for his salary himself. Bingo. “Ah, it feels like a family, very comfortable. And it is a team that helps a lot in the ‘sprints’. Now, if you don’t have legs, it doesn’t matter how good your team is,” warns Antn, who confesses that Merckx’s record was more an obsession of his environment (team, sponsors …) than of himself: “he respects and admires Merckx a lot and knows that it has nothing to do with him, that it is another world.”
Cavendish himself supports the appreciation of the Biscay: “For me, this is just one more victory in the Tour, it awakens the same feelings as the first, I still do not realize that it is special because of the record. It is only the dream of a child come true after a lot of work. If one of my victories serves to inspire 10 children to start cycling and maybe run a Tour in the future … That will be important to me. “