Mark Cavendish’s hopes of breaking the record for stage wins at the Tour de France ended in cruel fashion on Saturday when the Briton crashed out of this year’s race, which he has long said will be his last, and broke his collarbone.
The 38-year-old, who will retire at the end of the year, fell off his bike with 64km left in the eighth stage won by Mads Pedersen, and was taken into an ambulance for checks before his withdrawal was made official by race organisers.
The Astana-Qazaqstan rider was looking to become the only man with 35 stage wins on the world’s greatest cycling race, to beat the record he shares with Belgian great Eddy Merckx, who bagged 34 victories from 1969-75.
Cavendish had come close to achieving his goal when he took second place on Friday in the seventh stage in Bordeaux after suffering a mechanical problem in the final straight.
He held his right arm after crashing on Saturday, lying down in agony, visibly in pain and with blood on his elbow. He then held his head in disbelief as he climbed into the race ambulance where doctors strapped up his shoulder.
“Mark Cavendish broke his right collarbone. Moreover because of the fracture, an ostesynthesis screw in the acromioclavicular joint (shoulder) is loose,” the team said in a statement.
The screw has been in his shoulder since a crash in the 2017 Tour de France.
His withdrawal was effectively confirmed a few minutes later when the ambulance’s door was slammed shut, bringing a close to a remarkable Tour de France adventure that started in 2007.
“Second yesterday, and today (to) have this happen to Mark it’s hard because we know his shape’s here, we know he has the legs,” Mark Renshaw, who was Cavendish’s lead-out man from 2009-2011 and in 2016 and joined Astana-Qazaqstan as a sprint adviser, told reporters.
“I won’t lie, I cried. Everyone in the team is hurting.”
“It is an emotional day,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. “He’s the best sprinter in the history of the Tour de France. During two or three seconds yesterday we thought he would succeed in reaching his goal, and today, it’s over. We are sad, the Tour de France is sad.
“Mark deserves the respect of the Tour. He always will be welcome with or without his bike.”