Mark Cavendish failed at the last to break Eddy Merckx’s longstanding record of 34 career stage wins after being outsprinted by Wout Van Aert in the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées.
Cavendish had been widely expected to surpass Merckx’s record with a fifth win on the Champs-Élysées and a 35th stage win of his career, but Belgian national champion, Van Aert, winner of Saturday’s time trial stage to St Emilion, led out the sprint and held off Cavendish, to clinch his third win of this Tour.
Tadej Pogacar, who at 22 became the youngest rider to win the Tour twice, having won it last year, crossed the line safely to confirm his second consecutive overall title for UAE Team Emirates.
Despite failing to add to his four previous wins in the French capital, Cavendish has completed a remarkable comeback, equalling Merckx’s stage-win record and taking the green points jersey for the second time in his career. After winning for the first time since 2016 in Fougères, he then took three more stage wins in Châteauroux, Valence and Carcassonne.
That quartet of wins took him level with Merckx, the five-times Tour winner, now 76, who also won multiple other titles, multiple times. Cavendish’s points tally also sealed success in the points classification, which he first won a decade ago, for the second time, but he suffered for it, through the Alps and Pyrenees.
“I was afraid he wouldn’t make it to Paris,” his sprint leadout man Michael Morkov, said. “I was doubting that he would pass the [mountain[ stages but he was really strong.”
“He was never supposed to do the Tour, so to come here, the hardest race of the year with some of the hardest mountains, I have huge respect for him. We stayed with him, paced him through, and I am really proud of what he did and how hard he [worked].”