Mark Cavendish retires: Not just the greatest sprinter but one of the greatest cyclists of all time

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Mark Cavendish in the yellow jersey - Mark Cavendish sets out his retirement plans - GETTY/JEFF PACHOUD
Mark Cavendish in the yellow jersey - Mark Cavendish sets out his retirement plans - GETTY/JEFF PACHOUD

Mark Cavendish has announced his decision to retire at the end of this season, saying he “lived the dream” across an extraordinary 20-year professional career.

Speaking flanked by his family at a press conference in Coccaglio on Monday’s final rest day at the Giro d’Italia, where Cavendish is competing for his team, Astana, the Manx rider said he was retiring to spend more time with them and less time on the road, although he would certainly continue to work in the sport.

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“Today is Casper’s fifth birthday,” he said, pointing to his son. “It’s important I can be around for all of their birthdays from now on.”

He added: “Cycling’s been my life for over 25 years. I’ve lived an absolute dream. The bike has given me the opportunity to see the world and meet incredible people, a lot of whom I’m proud to call friends.

“I love the sport more than you can even imagine and I can’t see myself going too far from it, that’s for sure.”

Cavendish, who turned 38 on Sunday, joined British Cycling’s Junior Academy programme in 2003 and has gone on to become the greatest sprinter in cycling history, amassing 161 career victories so far, including the 2011 world road championships in Copenhagen and the 2009 Milan-San Remo title.

He is far more than a sprinter, however. Cavendish has won stages and the points classification at all three grand tours, and also held the leader’s jersey at each race. He has twice been national champion. Indeed, he is the reigning British road champion. He has won three Madison world titles on the track.

Fate and ill-luck meant Cavendish never won the Olympic gold medal he craved, missing out on the track in 2008 and on the road in 2012 when the British team were unable to deliver him to the sprint, before taking silver in the omnium at Rio 2016. But his standing in the sport is unquestioned.

Most famously, Cavendish has won 34 stages of the Tour de France, equalling the record set by five-time yellow jersey winner Eddy Merckx. He will attempt to become the outright most successful Tour stage winner when he rides for the final time at the world’s most famous race this summer.

He will have to try to win without the help of a recognised sprint train, however. Astana, whom Cavendish joined this year after a career racing for Highroad, Team Sky, QuickStep and Dimension Data, do not have any great sprint pedigree and Cavendish has often been left isolated in the final knockings of races this season.

Mark Cavendish crash at the Giro - Getty Images/LUCA BETTINI
Mark Cavendish crash at the Giro - Getty Images/LUCA BETTINI

He is yet to claim a victory with the Kazakhstani team, finishing fourth in Salerno when he crashed on the finish straight and managed to slide over the line while holding onto his bike, and third in Tortona.But he looks to have the legs to do so. In Caorle on Wednesday he will have one final chance to claim a 17th Giro stage win.

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