Mark Cavendish is on the brink of making yet more Tour de France history after winning his 33rd career stage in Valence.
The Manxman has long brushed off questions over Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 wins, but will not be able to avoid them much longer after another dominant display both from him and his Deceuninck-QuickStep team.
After his team took control in a finale blown apart by crosswinds, the Manxman held off the charge of Wout Van Aert and Jasper Philipsen to take his third win of a race he had not expected to start – extending his lead in the points classification in the process.
It was another masterclass in such conditions from Deceuninck-QuickStep, with world champion Julian Alaphilippe at the front of the charge as the peloton split towards the end of the 191km stage 10 from Albertville.
Sonny Colbrelli, Cees Bol and Andre Greipel were among those who had to fight to get back on – with the energy spent meaning they were unable to impose themselves at the end.
Not that Deceuninck-QuickStep looked in any mood to let them or anybody else have a chance – bossing the road to ensure it was they who had position in the final bend to put Cavendish where he needed to be.
“It was an old-school, run-of-the-mill, like you read in the cycling magazines, textbook lead-out,” Cavendish said. “Just getting the lads on the front, pull as fast as they can so no one can come past you.
“We knew this finish, I didn’t make it the last time we came here in 2015, I got dropped, but we studied it and we knew if we took that last corner wide, we could keep the speed up.
“It actually split in the wind. We didn’t try to split it, we were confident we had the team for the sprint, but again I’m just humbled.
“I’ve got the winner of the Tour of Flanders (Kasper Asgreen), the world champion who’s been in the yellow jersey here (Alaphilippe), Michael Morkov who’s going to the Olympics to try to win the Madison, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner (Davide Ballerini) leaving everything on the road for me.
“I just had to finish it off. I’m grateful to all of them. I didn’t have to do anything – just the last 150 metres. I’m thankful to everyone.”
Last Tuesday’s win on stage four had been Cavendish’s first in the Tour in five years. After three in a week, the record is now in touching distance still with many more opportunities to come as long as Cavendish can survive the mountains – starting with a double ascent of Mont Ventoux on Wednesday.
The sprint finish – and the regrouping of the peloton – meant there was no change at the top of the general classification, with defending champion Tadej Pogacar still two minutes and one second clear of Ben O’Connor, with Rigoberto Uran the next closest challenger five minutes and 18 seconds down.