Britain’s Mark Cavendish has won stage 13 of the Tour de France 2021 race and equalled Eddy Merckx’s long-standing Tour de France record of 34 victories on Friday, to cap one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. And it was a one-two for Cavendish’s supreme Deceuninck-QuickStep team in Carcassonne as the Manxman was guided to the line by Michael Morkov after a hectic Stage 13 finish.

Cavendish now stands tall alongside the great Eddy Merckx as the leading stage winner of the Tour de France.

The 34th stage win of Cavendish’s Tour career – and fourth of a remarkable comeback race – came after a scrappy and fiercely contested bunch sprint in Carcassonne, with Danish veteran Michael Morkov ensuring his teammate took the win by completing a slick one-two for Deceuninck-QuickStep.

Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Spain’s Ivan Garcia (Movistar) and Dutchman Danny van Poppel (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) completed the top five after a sweltering 220km stage through the Languedoc region of south-west France.

From start to finish, Deceuninck-QuickStep played a blinder – monitoring the early breakaway attempts, keeping a lid on the three-man move once it did go up the road, regrouping after Tim Declercq was involved in a large pile-up with 60km remaining, then putting out all the fires on a frantic approach to Carcassonne.

Cavendish was brought to the Flamme Rouge behind a blue train of Kasper Asgreen, Davide Ballerini and Morkov. But a series of turns disrupted the sprint and saw QuickStep react by having Ballerini zip clear inside the final few hundred metres.

Spaniard Garcia led the chase on Ballerini with Morkov and Cavendish in his slipstream, while Philipsen came around the outside of the green jersey entering the final straight. As Garcia caught Ballerini, Morkov powered past, expertly checking his speed before the line to ensure Cavendish made the headlines with the latest landmark win of an astonishing comeback.

“What a way to equal the record – Cav has now won all four of the sprints he has participated in,” Morkov said. “Now that he’s equalled Eddy Merckx’s record he has reached legendary status. You can certainly say that Mark has been the best sprinter ever in cycling.

“It was a very hard stage for us to control – Tim [Declercq] did an excellent job and we hope he is okay after his crash – and the whole team put in a massive effort at the end.”

By coming to the oldest rider to win four stages at a single edition of the Tour, 36-year-old Cavendish also extended his lead in the green jersey standings to 101 points over Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) after the Australian could only take 12th place in the final bunch sprint.

Asked what it felt like to have broken Merck’s long-standing record, a subdued and exhausted Cavendish said: “It’s tiring. I can’t even think about it. I’m afraid I’m so dead. 220 kilometres in that heat, that wind, that final… I went deep there, so deep. The boys were incredible. I can’t believe it.”

Cavendish, who had not raced the Tour for three years before his late call-up to QuickStep’s squad this summer, added: “It’s just another win on the Tour de France – just like my first one. I’ve won a stage on the Tour de France – and that was always my dream as a kid. If any one of my wins can inspire kids to ride the Tour when they grow up, then that’s what means the most to me.”

There were no changes in the general classification as Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) arrived safely in yellow to retain his 5’18” lead over Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) ahead of five days in the Pyrenees.

But the large crash which occurred 60km from the finish saw Briton’s Simon Yates abandon the race alongside BikeExchange teammate Lucas Hamilton of Australia, while Declercq had to dig deep to cross the line in the last place – missing the time cut by under three minutes.

The incident occurred shortly before three escapees – Israel’s Omer Goldstein (Israel Start-Up Nation), the American Sean Bennett (Qhubeka-NextHash) and France’s Pierre Latour (Team TotelEnergies) – were reabsorbed into the bunch after establishing a maximum lead of four minutes having gone clear after 25 hectic opening kilometres.

Saturday’s Stage 14 plays out in the foothills of the Pyrenees with five categorised climbs on a rolling route through Cathar castle country between Carcassonne and Quillan. For Cavendish, the focus will now swift on survival before a possible shot at beating Merckx’s record at the next rendezvous for the sprinters in Stage 19.

The Tour de France race can be live-streamed in India on Eurosport as it joined hands with the Global Cycling Network to broadcast the entire race. Viewers can alternatively use VPNs to live stream the race on other streaming platforms and online network TVs.

Also read | Tour de France 2021: Nils Politt ‘rides like the wind’ to win Stage 12

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