Overtaking Eddy Merckx has been the defined goal but it’s a stat and not the whole story. At times he’s seemed haunted by the need to race and to keep on winning rather than set a record. It’s also a tale of longevity, at 39 years old he’s the second oldest winner of a stage in the Tour de France and has the widest span in stage wins. 2024 here, 2008 then, beating Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel, whose son has recently retired from pro cycling. When Cavendish was winning in Châteauroux George Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy were Presidents. The Iphone was new and Samsung had yet to launch a smartphone. Cavendish’s bike was a 10 speed with protruding gear cables.

The Inner Ring

Behind, Philipsen moved onto Cavendish’s wheel. By this point, however, it was far too late for anyone to challenge the rider at the front of the race. No one was going to catch him.

When all was said and done, Cavendish’s teammates had helped deliver him into the final kilometer, and he handled the rest on his own, proving that racecraft and the instincts to follow the right wheels and to surge at the right moment were more than enough to put him into position to win. In the final 200 meters, he let his speed do the rest. Even at 39 years of age, three years removed from his last Tour stage win, Cavendish was imperious on the finishing straight.

He crossed the line with Philipsen still fully behind him, leaving no doubt about the victory that propelled him ahead of Eddy Merckx as the lone rider with more Tour de France stage wins than anyone in history.

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