Remco Evenepoel turned 24 on Jan. 25, 2024, and we compared the palmares - up to the 24th birthday - of the greatest riders of various eras. Today we come to the number eleven in our ranking Mark Cavendish.

First name: Mark Simon
Last name: Cavendish
Nationality: Great Britain
Age: 38 years old
Date of birth: 21-05-1985
Place of birth: Douglas, Isle of Man
Nicknames: Cannonball, Manx Missile

Mark Cavendish is a racing living legend. A pure sprinter who won almost all of his victories on the road in a bunch sprint. A rider who brings out emotions in virtually every cycling fan. A jerk in the eyes of many and, on the other hand, an emotional, friendly, no-nonsense guy to others. Rarely will anyone not have an opinion about the sprint bomb from Manx. But aside from his outspoken character, Cavendish is without a doubt one of the best, and for many, the very best sprinter there has ever been. He won (so far) thirty-four stages in the Tour de France, seventeen stages in the Tour of Italy and three stages in the Tour of Spain. He also won Milan-Sanremo, three times the Scheldeprijs, twice Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne and became world road champion. With a total of 162 UCI victories, Cavendish ranks third in the all-time victories ranking. That he is still one win away from second place, which is currently occupied by Mario Cipollini, is undoubtedly a second motivation for him – in addition to the record number of stage wins in the Tour – to continue racing for another year.

"Records and comparison with the past turn out to be important after all"

Records turn out to be important after all

Mark Cavendish is pre-eminent living proof that palmares, records and comparisons with the past do matter in sport. How else do we explain his enormous drive to break Eddy Merckx’s record – 34 stage wins in the Tour – and become the record holder alone? It would mean a lot to Cavendish even though he knows very well that Merckx never attempted to set a sealing record in terms of stage wins. What if Eddy had made that a goal at some point and had continued to race with that ambition? There would probably be a 4 as the first number instead of a 3.

From track cyclist to road cyclist

Cavendish became a professional cyclist in 2005 and can truly be called a “track product” because he was trained on the track. In youth, he achieved numerous victories on the track. In 2005, 2008 and 2016, he also became world team race champion. In 2005 he was paired with Robert Hayles, and in 2008 and 2016 with Sir Bradley Wiggins. On the road, the then only 21-year-old Cavendish, won the Scheldeprijs back in 2007. He beat the then sprint bomb Robbie McEwen, which was immediately the first sign that he had a great career ahead of him.

In 2008, it became clear that he had become the fastest of all the sprinters. In the Tour of Italy, Cav managed to win two stages, and in the Tour de France, he won the bunch sprint four times before missing the start of the fifteenth stage (an Alpine stage).

In 2009, Cavendish won Milan-San Remo as a 23-year-old. On Sept. 25, 2011, Cavendish became world road champion in Copenhagen. On the almost flat course, he beat Matthew Goss , André Greipel and the entire peloton in a bunch sprint. This made him only the second British road world champion, after Tom Simpson in 1965.

The fact that Cav also won an Olympic silver medal in the omnium in 2016 is sometimes forgotten in Belgium, but that especially emphasizes the Cannonball’s champion status.

Cavendish, Tirreno Adriatico Stage 6 Podium © Tim De Waele.

So hard to say goodbye

There were very few races in 2020 due to the corona epidemic. Cavendish, at the age of 35, could no longer secure a new contract with his employer Bahrain-McLaren. In Gent-Wevelgem his last race for Bahrain Mclaren, Cavendish jumped in with the day’s breakaway riders in order to gain another spotlight. After the finish, he tearfully recounted, “This may be the last race of my career.”

However, this was beyond Patrick Lefevere who saw his chance to push Cavendish to greatness one more time. Patrick offered Mark a one-year contract with Deceuninck-Quick-Step and what, outside of Lefevere, no one expected from him anymore, happened anyway. At the Tour of Turkey 2021, Cav managed to capture his first wins in three years, immediately winning four stages there, the harbinger of what was to follow.

Reborn as he was at Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, the now 36-year-old Cavendish also took four stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France 2021. This brought his total number of victories in the Tour de France to 34, equaling Eddy Merckx’s record.

He was given a new contract in 2022, but was preferred by Lefevere’s team to have Fabio Jacobsen as a sprinter for the Tour. Cavendish was very disappointed that he would not be able to break Merckx’s record and started looking for a new team at the end of the season. The dream of becoming a record holder on his own clearly did not leave him. It was not until mid-January 2023 that Astana Qazaqstan Team offered the British champion a one-season contract. Cavendish scored his first and only victory of the 2023 season, in the final stage of the Giro d’ Italia in which he had previously announced he would retire as a professional cyclist at the end of the season….

At the Tour de France where Cav was determined to win his 35th stage victory, disaster struck in what would be his last Tour. He crashed in the eighth stage and had to leave the Tour with a broken collarbone.

However, the urge to break Eddy Merckx’s record and become a solo record holder was/is still too great and in late 2023 came the news that in 2024 he will make another bid for the Tour de France stage record on the Astana team. By then, Mark Cavendish will have turned 39. Will he manage to turn the urge/dream of only becoming a record holder into reality?

Answer in July this year, we are already looking forward to it….


Text: Patrick Van Gansen

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