Mark Cavendish claims record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage win

Sir Mark Cavendish took a record-breaking 35th career Tour de France stage win with victory on stage five in Saint-Vulbas.

Three years after matching Eddy Merckx on 34 during the 2021 Tour, Cavendish moved clear of the Belgian to stand alone in Tour history.

The Manxman used all of his experience to navigate a hectic finish to the 177km stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, coming off the wheels of his rival and holding off Jasper Philipsen to take an historic victory that prompted tearful celebrations.

The 39-year-old postponed his planned retirement after crashing out of last year’s Tour, with his Astana-Qazaqstan team going all-in on ‘Project 35’ ahead of this year’s race.

His victory comes just four days after Cavendish struggled mightily in the heat of a punishing opening stage out of Florence, vomiting on the bike in concerning scenes, and two days after he missed the opportunity to contest stage three after being caught behind a late crash in Turin.

Cavendish said: “I’m in a little bit of disbelief. Astana put a big gamble on this year to make sure we’re good here at the Tour, my boss has done it.

“It’s a big gamble to come here to try to win at least one stage, a big gamble for my boss Alexander Vinokourov, a big thing to do, it shows he’s an ex-bike rider, somebody who knows what the Tour de France is.

“You have to go all-in and we’ve done it and worked it exactly how we wanted to do, how we built the team, the equipment, every little detail has been put towards today.”

Cavendish’s four stage wins in 2021 counted as one of sport’s great comeback stories, his first victories at the Tour in five years after a period of time marked by illness and injury which contributed to a diagnosis of depression.

Even since those wins three years ago, Cavendish has endured more difficulty, only signing a last-minute deal with Astana-Qazaqstan ahead of the 2023 season after the collapse of another move, then seeing last year’s Tour end abruptly with a broken collarbone on stage eight.

But since the moment he confirmed he would return this season, all of Cavendish’s focus and that of his team has been on this moment.

Over the winter they brought in Michael Morkov and Davide Ballerini – riders who had helped him to those victories in 2021 – and poured their resources into tailoring his equipment – even down to the detail of using time trial water bottles on his bike to aid aerodynamics.

His Astana-Qazaqstan team-mates moved to the front of the peloton at the top of a category four climb that peaked 30km from the end of the stage, and stayed there until the final kilometre.

As the finish line neared, Cavendish left the wheel of Morkov to follow Philipsen and then Fabio Jakobsen, then turned on the power when the road opened up to his left, with nobody able to follow. Sixteen years after winning his first Tour stage, nobody could deny him a 35th.

Cavendish’s wife Peta and their children were waiting at the team bus having travelled to France on Tuesday, and joined in emotional celebrations that reflected the huge amount of work that has gone into this moment.

However Cavendish – who said he had spent less than three weeks at home this year due to his training and race schedule – admitted he needed time to fully appreciate what he had done.

“I just want to see my boys, my team-mates and everyone who has supported and worked on this Tour de France for one or two years,” he said.

“Normally we celebrate but I just want to be with everyone and realise what we’ve done.”

The sprint finish meant no change to the overall standings, in which Tadej Pogacar leads Remco Evenepoel by 45 seconds, with defending champion Jonas Vingegaard in third, a further five seconds back.

Pogacar’s victory on Tuesday’s stage four was the 12th Tour stage win of his career, putting him level with the soon-to-retire Peter Sagan in second place on the rankings among active riders – the huge gulf speaking to the scale of Cavendish’s achievement.

The Tour continues on Thursday with a stage into Dijon which could produce another sprint.

“I want to try and enjoy it,” Cavendish said about his remaining aims. “And secondly try and be successful again because that’s fundamentally our job.”