On the final day of the 2021 Tour de France, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) upset Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to win a bunch sprint in Stage 21 and reach the finish line first on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Mark Cavendish Stage 21 Tour de France Le Paris Sprint Wout Van Aert
Wout Van Aert (center) won a sprint in Stage 21 Paris and denied Mark Cavendish (right in green) a 35th career stage win. (Image: Reuters)

Cavendish sought to break the all-time record for stage wins after he tied Eddy Merckx with 34 last week after securing his fourth sprint victory on Le Tour. Van Aert denied Cavendish a record-breaking 35th win.

2021 Tour de France – Stage 21 Results
  1. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 02:39:37
  2. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix)
  3. Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Van Aert locked up his third stage win this year, going back-to-back after his victory in Stage 20 on Saturday. Van Aert’s three wins this year all came on different types of stages: mountain, sprint, and time trial. The Belgian rider won Stage 11 after conquering a double ascent on Mont Ventoux.

Stage 21: Chatou > Paris

The final stage of the Tour de France heading into Paris is usually a formality with riders relaxing and sipping champagne, but there was a record at stake this year. Stage 21 began in the Parisian suburb of Chatou with a 108.4km route into Paris, including eight laps down the Champs-Elysees.

Deceuninck-QuickStep led the train for Cavendish into the final sprint down the Champs-Elysees, whereas Van Aert went solo with half of Jumbo-Visma out of the race. Van Aert took the lead with 500 meters to go. A patient Cavendish typically waits until the last possible second to make his move, but his delayed last surge wasn’t enough, and Van Aert beat him by a smidgen.

“This Tour has just been amazing, it’s such a rollercoaster,” said Van Aert. “To finish with a win like this, is beyond expectations. A victory like this is priceless – my team put me in perfect position.”

Cavendish actually crossed the finish line in third place. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) was a bridesmaid once again with a runner-up finish. Cavendish ended Le Tour with the green jersey as the top sprinter in the peloton.

Merckx cracked a wry smile at the finish line. The greatest living cyclist with five Tour de France victories continues to hold on to a share of the all-time stage wins with 34.

Cavendish and Merckx Tied at 34

Van Aert denied Cavendish a 35th stage victory and a potential fifth on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Cavendish ends Le Tour with 34 stage wins, which still is remarkable considering the British sprinter didn’t have a team as late as December. He wasn’t supposed to ride in the Tour de France this year and thought he may never ride on Le Tour again.

Cavendish, aka the Manx Missile, had a long road back to regain his form as one of the elite sprinters in the peloton. He battled Epstein-Barr disease and wrestled with depression over the past few years. Everyone thought he was dunzo, but Deceuninck-QuickStep offered him a min-wage contract shortly before Christmas of last year.

Sam Bennett, DQ’s top sprinter, had an injury and pulled out of Le Tour a few days before the team was set to travel to the Grand Depart in Brest. When several of the top sprinters crashed during a messy start in Brittany, including Caleb Ewan, Cavendish found himself in a unique position.

Cavendish escaped the major crash and seized the opportunity to win a bunch sprint at Stage 4. With his confidence back, Cavendish won another sprint two days later in Stage 6. At that point, Cavendish and DQ eyed Eddy Merck’s record of 34 stage wins.

Cavendish rode to another sprint victory at Stage 10. He tied Merck’s record with a victory in Stage 13 for his fourth win this year. He failed to pick up his fifth stage victory in Paris after an impressive victory from the versatile Van Aert.

Check out more coverage of the 2021 Tour de France.