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CHATEAUROUX, FRANCE – JULY 1: Mark Cavendish of Great Britain and Deceuninck – Quick Step celebrates winning stage 6 in front of Jasper Philipsen of Belgium and Alpecin – Fenix (right), Wout van Aert of Belgium and Jumbo – Visma (8th, far left), Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Bora – Hansgrohe (5th, center) during the 108th Tour de France 2021, a stage of 160 km between Tours and Chateauroux / @LeTour / #TDF2021 / on July 1, 2021 in Chateauroux, France. (Photo : John Berry/Getty Images)
There’s just no stopping Mark Cavendish right now. Just two days after his surprise stage win in Fougeres, the Manx rider claimed yet another stage victory, finishing top of the podium in the 160.6 kilometer race on Thursday.
The flat route from Tours to Chateauroux favored the sprinters, especially Cavendish, who has won a stage finish here two times before. Chateauroux was the setting for Cavendish’s first victory at the Tour, and he banked on that experience to prevail yet again.
Cavendish targets Merckx’s record
He ended Stage 6 in three hours, 17 minutes and 36 seconds, sweeping past Jasper Philipsen and Nacer Bouhanni in a tight finish. Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounded out the top five ahead of Cees Bol (Team DSM), Belgians Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Australia’s Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Danish rider Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
Cavendish timed his attack in the end perfectly, displaying his speed as he hopped off the wheel of Deceuninck-Quick-Step lead-out man Michael Morkov before powering past Alpecin-Fenix riders Philipsen and Tim Merlier on the wide boulevard finish.
It has been an incredible resurgence for Cavendish, who once thought his days in the Tour de France were over. Injuries and illnesses have forced Cavendish to miss cycling’s biggest race the past couple of years, but he has returned with a bang in 2021, capturing two stage wins as he moved ever closer to the record of 34 held by Belgian legend Eddy Merckx.
He was not even expected to be in France this time of the year, but an injury to Sam Bennett, the best sprinter of last year’s Tour, opened the door for Cavendish’s return with the Deceuninck-Quick Step team. He has repaid the faith manager Patrick Lefevere has put in him, grabbing his 31st and 32nd stage victories this week.
Merckx’s record is definitely in sight, with several sprint stages remaining in the race. That is not only Cavendish’s goal in this year’s race, as the green jersey is also proving to be an attainable target for the Briton as well.
With his victory in Stage 6, Cavendish extended his lead over Philipsen in the green jersey standings to 46 points. Bouhanni was three points further back in third place.
Van der Poel retains yellow jersey
Cavendish’s quest for the record will have to take a break, though, as the race visits the Alps this weekend. Friday’s Stage 7 promises to be a tough test as well as the 249 kilometer ride from Verzon to Le Creusot is the longest leg of this year’s race, which features five lower-category climbs in a difficult final third.
Regarding the race for the yellow jersey, Dutch debutant Mathieu Van der Poel remained on top of the general classification, still leading defending champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) by eight seconds, with both riders finishing in the peloton after the sixth stage. Van Aert remained in third place, 30 seconds behind Van der Poel.
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