Bradley Wiggins says he “never stopped believing” in Mark Cavendish as he backed him to win “another three or four stages” at this year's Tour de France.
Cavendish claimed a popular and emotional win on Stage 4 to complete a fairytale comeback – a victory that had Eurosport’s very own Carlton Kirby choking up in the commentary box.
The Brit was only drafted in at the eleventh hour after defending green jersey Sam Bennett failed to shrug off a knee injury.
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Indeed, the 36-year-old looked set to quit the sport last year when, during a tearful interview at Gent-Wevelgem, he declared it was “perhaps the last race of my career”. But he was handed a lifeline by Deceuninck–QuickStep and has fully repaid their gamble after his heroics on Tuesday.
Wiggins, speaking on his latest podcast from a lockdown villa in France ahead of the much-anticipated return of Brad on a Bike, said he never doubted his old friend.
“I never stopped believing in him. I always thought he could do this. He’s still one of the fastest men in the world and he’s proved that this year,” he said.
“I sent a message to his wife last night because I know what they’ve been through as a family. She’s been his biggest supporter.
Cav means a lot to a lot of people, as a human let alone a cyclist.
“It’s one of those funny ones – seeing him actually do it and believing it are different things. I believed he could still do it and said it was never in doubt, but at the same time to pull it off and execute it, I think that’s where the disbelief comes from.”

'I thought I was never coming back' - Tearful Cavendish on win

Cavendish managed to avoid the carnage that afflicted much of the peloton on Stage 3, including sprint rivals Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) who collided in the final moments.
Ewan was forced to abandon with a fractured collarbone, leaving Cavendish an even stronger contender to add to his 31 stage wins at the Tour.
“I spoke to him [Cavendish] last night, he rang me and said ‘I’ve never been so happy to not have been involved in that sprint’ [on Stage 3]," continued Wiggins.
“He thinks he would have been on Caleb’s wheel, that’s the wheel he would have chosen, and Caleb went down and he would have gone over the top. That would have been a terrible way to leave the Tour.
“I think it’s his belief – ‘don’t worry, there’s another opportunity tomorrow’ – and my god, what a way to execute it. I’m so f****** happy for him. I really am. He’s a lovely guy, I love him to bits. It means a lot to him.”
The ‘Manx Missile’ is three stages short of Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 and Wiggins has added his voice to those who believe he can do it. Eurosport cycling royalty Sean Kelly also backed Cavendish to surpass Merckx at this year’s race.
“I think he can win another three or four stages in this race. But one step at a time. He needs to enjoy this moment and we all need to enjoy it for him.
“Watching one of your best friends, he’s like a brother to me, in tears because it might be the end of his career… and here we are eight months on and he’s won a stage of the Tour de France and got the green jersey.”

‘So special!’ – Tearful Cavendish celebrates with teammates

More stage wins and the green jersey are not beyond Cavendish, Mark II - Analysis from Felix Lowe

With six more potential sprints in this year’s Tour, Cavendish and Quick-Step will be licking their lips – especially given the withdrawal of Caleb Ewan, the sprinter most similar to the Tour’s current second most winningest rider.
That first chapter could come on Thursday at Châteauroux – where Cavendish’s first ever Tour success came in Stage 5 of the 2008 Tour. What a story that would make. Cavendish will then have to survive three days in the Alps where the likes of Michael Morkov and Davide Ballerini will turn from sprint pilots into gruppetto companions for a rider for whom mountains have always been a struggle, but rarely an insurmountable one.

'It's a real dream now' - Why Cavendish CAN beat Merckx’s record

Get through the Alps and Cavendish will have a chance to compete with the other sprinters in Stage 10 to Valence ahead of that brutal stage that goes up Ventoux twice. The next day, the race goes to Nîmes – another city where Cavendish has won before – ahead of another sprint stage to Carcassonne. This means that, on paper, Merckx’s record may well be equalled before the race even hits the Pyrenees.
And should Cav survive five days of climbs, he’ll be rewarded with two more chances to stretch his legs in a sprint either side of the deciding time trial – at Libourne in Stage 19 and then on the Champs-Elysées on the final day.
In short: there is no shortage of stages which Cavendish could win – especially a confident Cavendish surrounded by the stellar team that he has. But we must also consider his rivals as well as those mountains. Nacer Bouhanni’s second place at Fougères was his best ever finish on the Tour, one day after his previous best ever finish when he came third at Pontivy. The progression is there for all to see and so it’s only logical that the Arkea-Samsic rider goes one better at some point.
Read Felix Lowe's full piece here.
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