Team UAE Emirates’ Tadej Pogacar celebrates with his overall leader yellow jersey on the podium at the end of the 10th stage of the Tour de France race on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse
Mark Cavendish won his third stage on the 2021 Tour de France on Tuesday to move within one of Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 victories but said he is motivated more by inspiring people to overcome difficulties.
At the end of a flat run from Albertville to Valence, the 36-year-old Briton edged Belgians Wout van Aert and Jasper Philipsen over the line to also keep a firm grip on the sprint points green jersey with hs 33rd win on the world’s greatest bike race.
Cavendish was a surprise late inclusion on Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Tour roster and has seized his opportunity, ending a five-year barren patch in the race with wins on stages four, six and now 10.
Known as the ‘Manx Missile’ Cavendish was team less in December before being taken in by former mentor Patrick Lefevere at the Belgian team where he has finally put behind him the after effects of the tiring Epstein-Barr virus.
“I’ve been blown away by the love and support from around the world,” a beaming Cavendish said.
“People can be inspired by some kind of comeback if you think things are over, if anyone can use that to get inspired that is the greatest joy for me,” he added.
Cavendish cut a much lighter character when interviewed after coming over prickly on his previous two triumphs here.
“I didn’t do anything today, they just delivered me, it was phenomenal again,” he said after hitting 63.5kph (almost 40mph) on the home stretch.
Cavendish refuses to discuss the Merckx stage milestone, the Belgian won the last of his Tour stages in 1975.
The former Team Sky rider is described by Tour director Christian Prudhomme as the greatest ever sprinter on the Grand Boucle, but will never win the race outright.
On Sunday, he scraped over the line just inside the time cut on a major mountain stage, and described this feat as maybe his greatest victory.
“My boss has been talking about me winning a fifth stage on the Champs Elysees,” he said, a feat that would see him surpass the long-standing Merckx’s tally.
“But I’m just taking it one day at a time and I’ll keep trying to win stages.”
The 22-year-old defending champion Tadej Pogacar retained the yellow jersey for the overall lead after keeping a low profile ahead of Wednesday’s monster double climb of Mont Ventoux with its barren, lunar upper reaches.
“Yeah, I didn’t get too involved today, I need to get ready to go full-gas on Mont Ventoux,” said the overall leader.
“There’s no point me risking everything going for a stage win,” said the UAE rider.
“I crashed the first day on the Tour and I’ve crashed six times this year, so that’s my main stress on these flat stages, keeping out of trouble.”
Pogacar has already stamped his authority on the race. He avoided the crashes that pushed some pre-race favorites out of contention, asserted his authority during the first time trial and attacked relentlessly in the mountains to open a 2:01 gap over his closest rival, Ben O’Connor of Australia.
Stage 10 embarked from the 1992 Winter Olympics host city of Albertville and took the peloton through the magnificent Rhone Valley, where the 165 survivors from the original 184 starters appeared relaxed after their rest day, all of them having tested negative for Covid-19 on the rest day Monday.
The race ended minutes before a heavy rainstorm lashed the finish line in Valence, halfway between Lyon and Marseille, that had been on an ‘orange alert’ in France for bad weather.
A crosswind prelude to the storm picked up 30km out of Valence, known for its Crozes Hermitage wines, wafting the pungent scent of the lavender fields across the open plains outside the arrival town in the Drome region.