Tour de France: Mark Cavendish carves history with all-time record-breaking win on stage 5

Image 1 of 27 Stage winner Mark Cavendish of Astana Qazaqstan Team celebrates with his teammate Harold Tejada at the finish (Image credit: Getty Images) Tour de France 2024: Mark Cavendish of Astana Qazaqstan wins stage 5 and sets new Tour record for most stage wins (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images) Tour de France 2024: Mark Cavendish of Astana Qazaqstan wins stage 5 and sets new Tour record for most stage wins (Image credit: Getty Images) The wide angle view of Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) winning his 35th Tour de France stage, this one in Saint Vulbas on stage 5 of the 2024 Tour (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Stage winner Mark Cavendish celebrates with Astana Qazaqstan teammate Cees Bol (Image credit: Thomas Samson / Pool / Getty Images) Mads Pedersen (left) rides across the finish line after being involved in a crash with Lidl-Trek teammate Tim Declercq (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images) Cees Bol and Alexey Lutsenko line up for Mark Cavendish with Astana Qazaqstan (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) The peloton pictured in action during stage 5 of the 2024 Tour de France cycling race, from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Saint-Vulbas, France (177,4 km) on Wednesday 03 July 2024. The 111th edition of the Tour de France starts on Saturday 29 June and will finish in Nice, France on 21 July. BELGA PHOTO POOL LUCA BETTINI (Photo by POOL LUCA BETTINI / BELGA MAG / Belga via AFP) (Photo by POOL LUCA BETTINI/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images) (Image credit: Getty Images) Sprinter Arnaud Demare of Arkéa-BB Hotels moves near the front of the peloton headed to the finish (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Matteo Jorgenson rides behind Visma-Lease a Bike teammate Jonas Vingegaard in the peloton (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) The early breakaway moves out to a 4:20 advantage with 120km to go – Matteo Vercher of Team TotalEnergies (left) and Clement Russo of Groupama-FDJ (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Clement Russo of Groupama-FDJ rides behind Matteo Vercher of Team TotalEnergies in the breakaway (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) French riders continue as the two-rider breakaway – Matteo Vercher of Team TotalEnergies and Clement Russo of Groupama-FDJ (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Race leader Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates and Primož Roglič of Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe share conversation early on stage 5 during a relaxed pace (Image credit: Getty Images) Mark Cavendish converses with race leader Tadej Pogačar during stage 5 (Image credit: Getty Images) Nils Politt of UAE Team Emirates (left) and Pascal Ackermann of Israel-Premier Tech enjoy the relaxed pace of the first half of stage 5 (Image credit: Getty Images) Casual conversation between Pavel Sivakov of UAE Team Emirates and Geraint Thomas of Ineso Grenadiers on the road from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Saint Vulbas (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Tim Declercq of Lidl-Trek rides next to world champion Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Deceuninck as they head to Saint Vulbas (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Toms Skujins of Lidl-Trek competes in the peloton (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) Fans cheer the peloton with a banner saluting French rider Laurent Fignon,1983 and 1984 winner of Tour de France (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Fans of race leader Tadej Pogačar ccheer at the start in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images) At the start of stagae 5 (L-R) Remco Evenepoel of Soudal-QuickStep in the White Best Young Rider Jersey, Jonas Abrahamsen of Uno-X Mobility in the Green Sprint Jersey and Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates in the Yellow Leader Jersey (Image credit: Getty Images) Stage 5 winner Mark Cavendish of Astana Qazaqstan celebrates at podium (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images) Race leader Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates celebrates at podium in yellow jersey for third time in five stages (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images) Clement Russo of Groupama-FDJ at podium as most combative rider (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images) Stage winner Mark Cavendish of Astana Qazaqstan Team receives congratulations from his wife Peta Todd and son Frey David (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images) Mark Cavendish celebrates at podium with his sons (Frey David, Finbarr), daughter Delilah Grace (in his right arm) and another family member (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

There was a time when Mark Cavendish stage victories at the Tour de France seemed to come about almost as a matter of routine, like the setting of the sun or the rising of the tides. The road to his record-breaking 35th victory was altogether more complicated, but that only heightened the emotion as the Manxman won stage 5 in Saint Vulbas on Wednesday afternoon.

The sprint finale was a chaotic one, as is so often the case in the modern Tour, but Cavendish has been imposing his order on situations like this since he was barely out of his teens. He delivered a rasping sprint to beat Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X Mobility) to the line, breaking the record he had shared with Eddy Merckx since 2021.

At 39 years of age, Cavendish surely cannot possess the same turn of pace that carried him to his first Tour win in Châteauroux back in 2008. He has, however, always been able to read the changing contours of a bunch sprint than anybody and find the most viable route to his goal, and that was key to his triumph here.

When Cavendish lost his lead-out man Michael Mørkøv in the run-in, he immediately found his bearings by attaching himself to Philipsen’s rear wheel. As the peloton hurtled into the finishing straight, however, he understood that the sands of the sprint were shifting, and he dived onto Pascal Ackermann’s wheel before striking out with a little over 100 metres to go.

Cavendish’s initial acceleration carried him a length clear, and he maintained his speed to the line, claiming a clear victory over Philipsen and Kristoff, his 35th on cycling’s grandest stage.

The Manxman had already equalled Merckx’s record on the 2021 Tour, when he snared four wins after earning a late call-up to QuickStep’s squad. He missed the chance to claim the record for himself when he was beaten on the Champs-Élysées, and it looked like the opportunity had passed him by altogether when he was omitted from the team’s selection for 2021.

Last year, after a tumultuous winter, Cavendish found a home at Astana and came agonisingly close to that elusive 35th win in what he had announced would be his final Tour. His crash and abandon on stage 8, however, convinced him to walk back that decision.

The 2024 Tour was to be his last dance, but despite victories on the Tour Colombia and the Tour of Hungary earlier this year, it was far from a given that he would add to his Tour tally. Cavendish’s prospects looked slenderer still when he suffered with heatstroke on the demanding opening stage of this race, reaching Rimini almost 40 minutes down.

Cavendish, of course, is never more dangerous than when the odds seem to be stacked against him. For the bones of sixteen years, one has been very ill advised to write off Cavendish, and the truism clearly still for this, his final Tour.

“I’m a little bit in disbelief,” Cavendish said. “Astana have put a big gamble on this year, to make sure we’re good on the Tour de France. We gambled coming in trying to win at least one stage and that’s a big gamble for my boss, Alex Vinokourov. It shows that an ex-bike rider knows what the Tour de France is. You have to go all-in.”

Cavendish’s flash interview was interrupted by an embrace from Vinokourov, whose Astana team has struggled to score UCI points over the past two seasons.

“You see what it means. OK, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be top of the UCI rankings or anything, but the Tour is bigger than cycling, isn’t it?” Cavendish said. “You know how much I owe this race, you know how much Vino owes this race.”

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) retains the yellow jersey after finishing safely in the peloton, though the Slovenian narrowly avoided coming down in a crash at a traffic island with a little under 60km to go. Pogačar remains 45 seconds clear of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) in the overall standings, with Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike) still third at 50 seconds.

The day belonged to Cavendish, however, who downplayed his travails on the opening stage in Italy.

“I don’t like to suffer, but I know it’s all in the head,” he said, adding that his sprint had been an off-the-cuff effort amid a very complicated finale.

“We didn’t nail it as a team like we wanted to do, but the boys improvised and got me there in the best position. When you’re not physically as good as everybody else, it’s definitely beneficial to use your head a bit.”

How it unfolded

After the remorseless intensity of Tuesday’s short stage over the Col du Galibier, there was a decidedly more relaxed feel to stage 5 from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Like on Monday’s long run to Turin, which was also destined from the outset to end in a bunch sprint, the peloton was glad to call a temporary truce in the opening phase of stage 5.

When the flagged, there was no immediate response from the bunch, which was content to able along at a relatively sedate pace through the opening kilometres. At one point, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) ghosted off the front in the company of compatriot Oier Lazkano (Movistar), seemingly by accident, while the peloton ambled along behind them.

A break worthy of the name eventually took shape 30km or so into the stage, when Clément Russo (Groupama-FDJ) clipped away, with Mattéo Vercher (TotalEnergies) bridging across to keep him company shortly afterwards.

The sprinters’ teams were all content with that scenario, and so the pattern for the day was set. The French duo would stretch their buffer out towards the five-minute mark after the time the race had passed through Chambery, by which point a coalition of sprinters’ teams had already set about gently whittling away at their advantage.

Russo led the over the category 4 Côte du Cheval Blanc, and he also led through the intermediate sprint at Aoste, where Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) continued his green jersey campaign by beating Sam Bennett (Decathlon-AG2R), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Philipsen to third place.

By then, with a shade over 50km remaining, the break’s lead was down to just a minute, with the pace – and tension – in the peloton rising steadily. Indeed, shortly before the sprint, Pogačar narrowly avoided coming down in a crash as the peloton navigated a traffic island. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) was among the fallers there, but mercifully the Basque quickly rejoined the fray.

The general nervousness of the situation was exacerbated still further by the rain that began to cascade gently over the peloton in the final hour of racing, with the GC teams massing towards the front ahead of the Côte de Lhuis, where Russo and Vercher were caught.

King of the mountains Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Mobility) led the bunch over the summit. His team’s hopes of stage victory seemed to compromised over the other side, with Kristoff coming down in a crash with 27km remaining, but the Norwegian battled back to claim a fine third place on the day.

The combination of wet roads and repeated road furniture sparked another crash shortly afterwards, with Christophe Laporte (Visma-Lease a Bike) tumbling at low speed and, mercifully, without lasting consequence, as he chased back on before the high-speed run-in.

Arnaud De Lie’s Lotto-Dstny squad took control of affairs in the finale, hitting the front with 2km remaining, but no one team was going to be able to dictate the terms of a sprint like this. Uno-X and DSM later took up the reins in the final kilometre, but the expected lead-out masterclass from Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) never materialised, with the World Champion getting squeezed against the right-hand barriers.

Cavendish had been tracking Philipsen’s rear wheel to that point, but he quickly realised that he would have to travel a different road to victory here. Not for the first time, that made all the difference.

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