Two weeks ago, Mark Cavendish didn’t think he was ever going to ride in the Tour de France again, let alone win Stage 4: Redon > Fougeres for the 31st stage win of his illustrious racing career. Cavendish returned to the Tour de France for the first time in three years, and won his first stage in five, after battling Epstein-Barr syndrome and depression to return to peak form as one of the premier sprinters in the world.

Mark Cavendish Stage 4 Tour de France Fougeres
Mark Cavendish from Deceuninck-QuickStep celebrates at the finish line at Fougeres for a victory in Stage 4 of the 2021 Tour de France. (Image: Reuters)

With 31 stage wins, Cavendish is currently in second place on the all-time Tour de France stage wins list behind the legendary Eddy Merckx, who holds the record with 34 stage wins between 1969 and 1975.

“It’s almost been forgotten how hard it is to win a Tour stage,” said Cavendish. “It’s not easy at all. That’s been the hardest thing to put up with people not understanding the sacrifices I put in to win those 30 stages. It sounds silly but it means so much to me. From the first time in 2008 until now. I’m living a dream.”

2021 Tour de France – Stage 4 Results
  1. Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 3:20:17
  2. Nacer Bouhanni (Team Arkea-Samsic)
  3. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix)

Caleb Ewan broke his collarbone in a nasty crash in Stage 3, and the top sprinter in the peloton was no longer the front runner to win the next sprint stage. Cavendish seized the opportunity and executed a near-perfect final sprint to win Stage 4 by holding off Nacer Bouhanni (Team Arkea-Samsic) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix).

Stage 4: Redon > Fougeres

In December, Cavendish didn’t even have a team to race for before Deceuninck-QuickStep offered him a minimum contract. When Deceuninck-QuickStep first selected their team for the 2021 Tour de France, Cavendish wasn’t on the list. When teammate Sam Bennett had an injury and a dispute with management, he was out, and Patrick Lefevere tapped Cavendish at the last moment.

Cavendish waited until Stage 4 for his moment to strike after Ewan withdrew from Le Tour due to the injuries he suffered in Stage 3. Without the top sprinter in the peloton, Cavendish seized the moment during a 150 km flat ride from Redon to Fougeres.

“Three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have imagined this,” said Cavendish. “This race is everything to me as a professional.”

An emotional Cavendish collapsed near the finish line as teammates and D-QS support staff celebrated his remarkable victory. One by one, veterans in the peloton stopped to pay their respects to Cavendish out of the sincerest respect.

“He’s just amazing,” said teammate Julian Alaphilippe. “We really believed in him for today’s stage. We knew the final. This is such an emotional victory for him but also for everyone.”

Cavendish won his 26th stage at Fougeres six years ago, so he was familiar with the medieval town where Stage 5 ended.

With one sprint victory in the books, there’s no reason to think that Cavendish can’t take a shot at Merckx’s record of 34. He needs three wins to tie and four to secure the record, and he has teammate Michael Morkov as one of the world’s top lead-out riders in the sport to assist him.

On Deck Stage 5: Change > Laval Espace Mayenne

If you dig individual time trials, then don’t miss Stage 5, which includes a 27.2 km ride from Change > Laval Espace Mayenne. Matieu Van der Poel is, admittedly, not an optimal rider in time trials, so expect Alaphilippe to regain the yellow jersey on Wednesday.

Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is the favorite to win the time trial at +175 odds, with the two Stefans — Bissegger and Kung — right behind.

2021 Tour de France – GC Standings
  1. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) 16:19:10
  2. Julian Alaphilippe (D-QS) +00:08
  3. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) +00:31
  4. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
  5. Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) +00:38

There was no change in the overall general classification standings. Van der Poel continues to hold an eight-second lead over  Alaphilippe. Richard Carapaz still holds on to third place overall with a 31-second deficit.

Defending champion Tadej Pogacar continues as the consensus betting favorite at -155 odds to win the yellow jersey in back-to-back years. Primoz Roglic (+500) dropped off a bit, but he’s still near the top of the Tour de France futures board along with Richard Carapaz (+550). Fan-favorite Alaphilippe is +1200 odds as the highest French rider on the board.

Check out more coverage of the 2021 Tour de France.