Mark Cavendish is out of his final Tour de France, abandoning the race after a heavy crash on stage eight.
A day after the Manxman came within a few metres of a record-breaking 35th career Tour stage victory in Bordeaux, he was forced to leave the race after hitting the deck with about 60km remaining of the 201km stage from Libourne to Limoges.
A touch of wheels in the peloton forced Cavendish down and he sat holding his shoulder before being helped into an ambulance, his anguish at being forced out of his final Tour in such circumstances obvious.
It means Cavendish, who announced in May that he will retire at the end of the season, will finish his career level with Eddy Merckx on 34 Tour stage wins.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Cavendish was agonisingly close to breaking the record, getting the jump on Jasper Philipsen on the sprint to the line in Bordeaux, only for his gears to jump when he was trying to apply full power.
While hugely disappointed after that head-to-head with Philipsen, Cavendish also spokn optimistically about his form and the cohesion of his Astana-Qazaqstan team’s lead-out train, which had been learning on the job in this Tour.
Asked if he felt he was capable of winning a stage, he said: “I think so.”
However, it is not just the opportunity of the record that Cavendish has lost with Saturday’s crash. He has had a long love affair with the Tour and could be seen throughout the opening week taking the opportunity to soak up the admiration of fans at the roadside and enjoy something of a lap of honour.
In recent years when it came to contract negotiations, Cavendish fought to end his storied career on his terms, and the timing of his retirement announcement in May was made with the Tour in mind.
When he announced in May that the 2023 season would be his last in the sport, Cavendish said that he had “lived the dream” across an extraordinary 20-year professional career.
The Manx rider, 38, planned to retire in order to spend more time with his family and less time on the road, although he would certainly continue to work in the sport.
At his retirement press conference he added: “Cycling’s been my life for over 25 years. I’ve lived an absolute dream. The bike has given me the opportunity to see the world and meet incredible people, a lot of whom I’m proud to call friends.
“I love the sport more than you can even imagine and I can’t see myself going too far from it, that’s for sure.”
Cavendish won his first stages of the Tour de France in 2008 and took four wins in the 2021 edition, equalling Merckx’s record with his victory on stage 13 that year in Carcassonne. It was his performance in that race that proved he could still compete with younger rivals. That belief was backed up earlier this year at the Giro d’Italia where Cavendish won the final stage.
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