Mark Cavendish has received messages of congratulations from the likes of England manager Gareth Southgate and midfielder Jordan Henderson after his remarkable return to form at the Tour de France.
Cavendish was denied the Tour’s all-time stage wins record when Wout van Aert won Sunday’s finale on the Champs-Elysees, leaving the Manxman tied with Eddy Merckx on 34, but three weeks in which he won four stages and the points classification still exceeded all expectations.
The 36-year-old was not due to race the Tour before an injury ruled out his team-mate Sam Bennett in the weeks prior, but he stepped in to take his first stage wins since 2016 and with them another piece of history.
In a celebratory video put together by the Deceuninck-QuickStep team, Southgate said: “I wanted to send congratulations on behalf of myself and all of the England team on your phenomenal achievement.
“I’m a big fan of everything you’ve done and I’ve loved watching you ride over the years. Congratulations.”
Liverpool captain Henderson, who joined Cavendish in online training rides during lockdown last summer, added: “You deserve everything you get. You’re a top person and to see you making history, it was an unbelievable achievement so massive congratulations and enjoy it with your family.
“It’s nice to know I played a very small part with those tough sessions in lockdown on the bike!”
Cavendish had suffered with injury and illness since winning four stages of the Tour in 2016 and feared his career was over last winter, but his comeback now has cemented his status as the greatest sprinter the sport has seen.
“The first time I ever met Mark, he came into my office in Manchester with the Olympic team wearing a shellsuit,” said Ineos Grenadiers team principal Sir Dave Brailsford, who signed Cavendish for Team Sky in 2012.
“I asked, ‘Where’s the top of your mountain, where are you headed?’ and he gave me a look and said, ‘I’m going to be the fastest sprinter in the world’. I was taken aback, but sure enough he is.
“I admired the way he first burst on to the stage and that that terrific run on the Olympic stage and at the Tour de France, but I’ve got even more admiration, more respect, for the way he burst back on to the scene after all that time when he had to grit his teeth and dig in.
“I think he’s proven he’s the greatest of all time.”