“That was maybe the final race of my profession,” a tearful Mark Cavendish mentioned in mid-October.
Now, lower than 9 months on, the 36-year-old has penned what is probably one in all sport’s most thrilling comeback tales.
Within the course of, the Manxman has additional staked his declare to be Britain’s greatest-ever bicycle owner and cemented his place as the perfect sprinter the Tour de France has ever seen.
With 34 stage wins within the bag – matching a report held by Belgian legend Eddy Merckx for near half-a-century – Cavendish has achieved what, at one level, appeared nearly a formality.
In Villars-les-Dombes Parc des Oiseaux in July 2016, Cavendish secured the thirtieth of his stage wins and, on the age of 31, it appeared solely a matter of time earlier than he matched after which beat Merckx’s report.
With a physique naturally suited to sprinting and a coolness and sharpness of thoughts that he has admitted to coaching with sudoku puzzles, Cavendish appeared destined to turn into the Tour’s greatest-ever stage winner.
Nevertheless, Cavendish subsequently ended his participation within the 2016 Tour early so as to put together for that 12 months’s Olympic Video games.
After which started a merciless four-year ordeal of crashes, harm, sickness – each bodily and psychological – and the heartbreak of non-selection for biking’s most well-known race; all of which made the dream of 34 stage wins appear sure to be left unfulfilled.
In 2017, Cavendish withdrew from the Tour with a fractured shoulder blade after a horror crash within the final 200m of the end to stage 4.
He was eradicated within the 2018 Tour after lacking the time lower on stage 11 and, shortly afterwards, introduced he would take an indefinite break from biking as he continued his wrestle with Epstein-Barr virus, generally often called glandular fever.
He returned to racing the next 12 months however, after failing to show his finest kind once more, he was dramatically not chosen by his then crew Dimension Knowledge for the 2019 Tour.
Describing himself as “completely heart-broken”, Cavendish made his displeasure clear together with his crew bosses by stating he was “within the good place” to compete after tailoring his coaching to peak for that 12 months’s race.
The controversy noticed him change groups to Bahrain McLaren for the 2020 season, however he once more suffered the ache of non-selection for that 12 months’s Tour, which was delayed from its traditional July slot because of the COVID disaster.
Nevertheless, Cavendish was way more sanguine about lacking out for a second 12 months in a row, admitting he wouldn’t have been prepared for the race even when chosen.
Earlier that 12 months, Cavendish had revealed he had been preventing despair alongside his restoration from Epstein-Barr’s, frankly admitting: “I used to be darkish.”
But, from that time, started a sequence of occasions which have now lastly seen him match Merckx.
No. Phrases. Can. Describe. How. I. Really feel.
Large boots to fill for @Sammmy_Be. Can all people be part of me in sending him constructive vibes please 🙏🙏
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) June 21, 2021
A transfer to his earlier crew, Deceuninck-QuickStep, for the 2021 season noticed a rejuvenated Cavendish be part of biking’s “wolf pack” – which counts amongst their quantity world champion Julian Alaphilippe as a part of maybe the strongest dash leadout crew within the skilled peloton.
Nevertheless, a reunion with the Tour nonetheless appeared a distant prospect as Deceuninck-QuickStep already had Sam Bennett, the winner of the inexperienced jersey on the 2020 Tour, on their roster.
4 stage wins at this 12 months’s Tour of Turkey confirmed indicators that Cavendish was nearly again to his finest – prompting a rising refrain of voices beckoning Deceuninck-QuickStep bosses to permit the 36-year-old to proceed his French love affair.
And, with Bennett failing to recuperate from a knee harm, lastly got here Cavendish’s likelihood to as soon as once more take up the chase of 34; a chance he has since seized with the complete ferocity of a 70km/h sprint for the road.