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Mark Cavendish said on Monday he will retire at the end of the season, bringing the curtain down on the career of one of cycling’s all-time great sprinters.
The British rider, whose 34 Tour de France stage wins are joint most with Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, will have one final chance to claim the record outright in July when he takes part in the race one last time.
The 38-year-old, known as the “Manx Missile”, made the announcement alongside his wife and children at a press conference in Coccaglio during Monday’s rest day at the Giro d’Italia.
“I’ve absolutely loved racing every kilometre of this race so far, so I feel it’s the perfect time to say it’s my final Giro d’Italia and 2023 will be my final season as a professional cyclist,” Cavendish said.
“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 now 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.”
Over a storied career Cavendish’s deep racing knowledge, a fearless, aggressive approach and the ability to marshal teammates and outspeed rivals has earned him a staggering 161 wins with 53 of those coming at Grand Tours.
“This race (the Giro) has an important place in my heart as a cyclist and a person,” he said.
“The Giro d’Italia gave me my first Grand Tour wins in 2008. Italy was my home for many years during my career. And the people here welcomed me, as one of their own.”
– Traumatic experience –
One of cycling’s most popular riders, Cavendish also endured private trauma away from the sport.
In a horrific incident last year, he and his wife were held at knifepoint by robbers in a late-night attack.
Born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, the former junior bank clerk joined a nascent British Cycling Academy in 2003.
By 2008 he won a first Tour de France stage with German team T-Mobile, racking up 30 in a period of dominance until 2016, when he was stuck down by the draining condition of Epstein-Barr virus.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme told AFP ahead of the 2018 Tour that Cavendish had “nothing to prove”.
“Many people will mention Mario Cipollini but for me Mark Cavendish is the Tour de France’s all-time great sprinter,” the race director said.
Cavendish, however, had other ideas about what he had left to prove.
He went five years without a win and also ended up without a team in early 2021.
On a rookie’s salary, however, Cavendish was taken ‘home’ to Belgian outfit Deceuninck Quick-Step by maverick team boss Patrick Lefevere, a larger-than-life character Cavendish trusted and believed.
On stage 13 of the Tour de France that summer Cavendish equalled Merckx’s 46-year-old record of Tour de France stage wins by taking a fourth win on that edition.
Cavendish also won the rainbow jersey at the world road race championships in Copenhagen in 2011 and the Monument one-day race Milan-San Remo in 2009.
He has ridden for T-Mobile, Team Sky, Bahrain, Quick-Step and is currently with Astana.
Cavendish, a silver medallist on the track in the omnium at the 2016 Olympics, also received an MBE for services to British cycling.
“He is the greatest sprinter of all time, really, when you see his record,” said Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion.
“It’s kind of strange to see him retire, actually, because it means I’m going to be soon as well,” he added.
“But he hasn’t finished yet. He’s still got to get that record at the Tour and win a stage here.”