Tour de France 2021: Briton Mark Cavendish closes within one stage win of Tour record

Still refusing to discuss Eddy Merckx's Tour de France stage win record, Mark Cavendish is simply basking in delight, after claiming his 33rd victory on the world's greatest cycling race.

Another perfectly executed sprint earned him his third win in this year's edition in the 10th stage between Albertville and Valence, putting him one shy of the all-time record of Belgian great Merckx.

What struck the 36-year-old Cavendish was the reception of the French public and the joy of riding the Tour, after his last participation left him eliminated when he missed the time cut on a mountain stage.

"The reception has been incredible, especially this year," says Cavendish, who has enjoyed a spectacular renaissance since re-joining the Deceuninck-Quick Step team. "I've been absolutely touched by... what I could physically feel from the French public. 

"They've been outstanding, so welcoming to me back to the Tour. It's been incredible, it really makes it worthwhile to know that people can be inspired by some sort of comeback, that they can get hope - that's the greatest joy I get from this Tour de France."

For Tuesday's win, Cavendish was once again finely set up by his teammates, with Michael Morkov bringing him in his slipstream until 250 metres to go.

"I remember buying cycling magazines when I was younger, and there were articles about how lead-outs work and that's today, when the likes of Dries Devenyns and Tim Declercq come in," he explains. "Then it's about keeping it in control.

"I can honestly say I had guys who just delivered me to the finish there."

After four seasons of poor results, as he battled the Epstein-Barr virus and depression, Cavendish is enjoying himself back at Deceuninck-Quick Step.

"It's hard to say, it's not for me to talk about this... I know how I race, how I ride. Last time I was at this team, I was successful and happy, and I feel I have the same mentality as the other Deceuninck-Quick Step riders," the Manxman says.

"I can only talk from my personal experience. The mindset has a massive bearing on how the results played out throughout the years."

Not only has Cavendish won a Tour stage again this year for the first time since 2016, he has also made his way back to the top of his sport.

"As always, I'm just happy to be racing my bike and wear my Deceuninck-Quick Step jersey on the Tour de France. I'm 36 and with these young guys, it's the first time I race with them.

"In a while, I'll be cheering for them. If I can provide joy and entertainment, and be part the story, then that's what really matters for me." 

Reuters