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Mark Cavendish postpones retirement for Tour de France record bid

Mark Cavendish

AMOREBIETA-ETXANO, SPAIN - JULY 03: (L-R) Mark Cavendish of United Kingdom and Harold Tejada of Colombia and Astana Qazaqstan Team prior to the stage three of the 110th Tour de France 2023 a 193.5km stage from Amorebieta-Etxano to Bayonne / #UCIWT / on July 03, 2023 in Amorebieta-Etxano, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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Ace sprinter Mark Cavendish wants another go at becoming the outright record-holder for most career stage wins at the Tour de France.

Cavendish equaled cycling great Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins during the 2021 Tour, 13 years after his first success, and came close to winning a 35th in the seventh stage of the 2023 edition.

After announcing his retirement earlier this year, Cavendish has now backpedaled and will compete with the Astana Qazaqstan team for one more season, including the Tour.

“I was looking forward to not having to get up and train in any weather condition and not be away from home; spend time with the kids,” the 38-year-old Cavendish said on Wednesday. “Ultimately, I’d miss racing. I love racing. But I was happy, I was in a happy place, and I knew I could go out on top. Obviously, it wasn’t the finish I hoped for, crashing at the Tour de France.”

Cavendish, the most successful sprinter in the race history, crashed out during the eighth stage of cycling’s premium race this summer, breaking his right collarbone. The injury required surgery and Cavendish has not raced since.

Known as “The Manx Missile” as he’s from the Isle of Man, Cavendish had first rejected team manager Alexander Vinokourov’s proposal to extend their partnership for one extra year, discouraged by the efforts required to come back from yet another injury.

But Cavendish said speaking with his children offered another perspective.

“I spoke to the kids and I said, ‘What should dad do?’ They said, ‘Carry on.’ It was an odd question. So, here we are – just one more year, hey?” Cavendish said.

Vinokourov also played a role in the reversal.

“I asked Mark if in a few years he would regret that he did not try again, and, in turn, suggested to reconsider his decision,” Vinokourov said. “In the end Mark agreed. It won’t be easy to better the record he shares with Eddie Merckx, it would be an historic achievement.”

Merckx amassed his wins in the 1960s and 70s, an era during which his domination was such that he earned the nickname “The Cannibal.” Unlike Merckx, who won a record five Tours, Cavendish, who specializes in the sprints, has never won overall.

Cavendish has completed 206 stages, winning 16.5% of them, according to statistics provided by Tour de France organizers. His speed, prowess and longevity among his fellow sprinters have no equal at the Tour.

Cavendish also won the Tour de France best sprinter’s green jersey twice. He has won stages at all three Grand Tours — Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Spanish Vuelta — and became a world champion in 2011.

Cavendish joined Astana Qazaqstan this year after his contract with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl expired and being overlooked for the 2022 edition of the Tour.

“While this season Mark’s arrival in the team was quite unexpected, then for the next year we are preparing thoroughly, seriously reviewing the squad, strengthening the sprint direction, making personnel changes,” Vinokourov said.