Cavendish, the greatest sprinter of all time?

Cavendish Cap Fréhel

With his win today on the Cap Fréhel, Mark Cavendish’s total of Tour de France stage wins stands at 16 stage wins. That puts him above  übersprinter Freddy Maertens but still a few places behind André Darrigade, the Frenchman who took 22 stage wins from 14 Tour de France appearances. Aged 26, Cavendish has time on his side to achieve more wins.

Nobody sprints or races to get into the history books and most likely Cavendish would just say something about the team effort involved and that he’s doing his best to win each day. But it is obviously satisfying to achieve such results.

Above all the comparison is for those of us watching. Probably everyone – including fellow riders – has their views on Cavendish, some don’t take to his personality or appreciate some of the quotes they read. Some even find the ease of his wins boring. Personally I’m a fan, whilst his “open” style in front of microphone can cause him trouble, behind the scenes he is reckoned to be an intelligent and settled character. But whether you like the man or not, you’re watching a top sprinter at work. If you’ve ever flicked back through the history of sport and read of great names from the past then today you’ve just seen one of these riders in action.

Here’s the table of stage wins:

1 Eddy Merckx 34
2 Bernard Hinault 28
3 André Leducq 25
3 Lance Armstrong 25
5 André Darrigade 22
6 Nicolas Frantz 20
7 François Faber 19
8 Jean Alavoine 17
9 Charles Pélissier 16
9 René Le Greves 16
9 Jacques Anquetil 16
9 Mark Cavendish 16


As for greatest sprinter ever, time will tell. But 16 wins puts him in exclusive company and time is on his side to add to the count.

42 thoughts on “Cavendish, the greatest sprinter of all time?”

  1. Cav’s ability to recall all the exacting details of the final kilometers shows an intense focus. His wins are not just due to physical prowess, but also due to excellent tactics and situational awareness. The win today from quite a ways back, without a leadout, was superb.

  2. Same point as Fat2Cat, Cavendish banged his handlebars in disgust when Boonen blocked him at the Intermediary Sprint point, he then goes on to beat Gilbert and Rojas in a win as fabulous as Cadel’s was yesterday and you can see the elation in his face and the anguish in Gilbert’s

    In post race pictures later we see Cavendish sat by the crash barriers catching his breath and then the shot switches to Boonen, jersey ripped at the shoulder, struggling to beat the time delay.

    For me, Cavendish races for the glory not revenge but you can’t help but think “What goes around comes around”

  3. I’m going to do all you Cavendish fans a favor. He seems to think the whole world is against him and uses this perception as motivation to prove the world wrong.

    Cavendish doesn’t have a prayer in hell of ever being considered the best sprinter of all time.

    There you go, now you all owe me one. 😀

  4. The Cav of two years ago would never have taken fifth after the blown leadout on stage 3, and probably wouldn’t have won today from way back. Still, the verdict will have to wait until we see what he can do away from the Highroad machine.

    He might be in a green jersey dogfight this year… With Philip Gilbert.

  5. That was an amazing finish I am really interested in seeing helicopter footage from the moment Tony Martin hit the front until the line. I assumed when Martin gapped the leadout and Goss(?) started drifting back that 1) there was going to be a massive crash and 2) the race was over for HTC. How he moved through the crowd going uphill is beyond me.

  6. It is not a very valid comparison to place him alongside those who actually won several tours overall but today he certainly came from far to win & demonstrated he does not always have to be right behind his team mates to win at 200 metres. It is a pity he is unable to control his mouth at times though this is coming gradually. Ultimately, he is an absolutely superb sprinter & I expect Farrar was glad to have finally beaten him for once in the Tour. He may not get many more opportunities now.

  7. Cav is a scrapping mad manx genius and gets picked on a lot by the stiffs both in and out of the peloton and he is by far the best interview and the only one I stick around to hear. And Bonnen was not the one to shut the front door on him he was the one slamming the swinging storm door. Thumbs down to the tacky tasteless puck Power Bar yellow mucking up the stage winner podium. Uggcchh, I feel gooey and sick.

  8. This isnt the first time Cav has had to go solo in the last 500 metres…last year when Renshaw got banned he showed his ability to pick a wheel and poach the win. People still talk about him needing the HTC train, but you dont get to be a Paris-Milan winner and 16 TDF stages if you only survive by being carried to the line by your team. Cav is currently the worlds best sprinter with or without the HTC team. Its nice to be witnessing one of the greats in the process of making sprinting history. Now I just want Thomas to get his ass into the mountains and become a geniune GC contender…

  9. “It is a pity he is unable to control his mouth at times though this is coming gradually.”

    The last thing we want is Cav to become a media automaton giving us bland, politically correct, cliches. It would be like putting a blanket over a fire.

  10. “Cavendish doesn’t have a prayer in hell of ever being considered the best sprinter of all time.”

    Ooh, well done you. Quality trolling. Now we’re all *really* riled.

    I’m no Cav fanboy, but I’d be interested to know who you think IS the best.

    Cippolini, who released photos of himself on the beach having won a few stages and quit the Tour? Petacchi, the known – and banned – drugs cheat, who similarly quit the Tour once he’d logged a few stage wins?

    At least Cavendish respects the Tour and tries to fight his way through the mountains and finish it. He’s been on the receiving end of a series of at best dubious, at worst malicious, decisions by the commissaires over the last couple of years, and they’ve even created a Tour with minimal bunch sprint finishes to reduce his chances of stage wins. (If you read the official Tour guide, the guy who devised it even gloats about the lack of bunch sprint finishes). If he had been a French sprinter, you can guarantee they’d have done the opposite.

  11. I think today he really did prove his absolute sprinting class, with a far from perfect leadout he came from absolutely nowhere to demolish everyone else. I couldn’t believe that he got it from so far back, he seemed to be totally out of contention and was all of a sudden accelerating off the front. An excellent display of tactical nous and speed.

    As far as his interview persona goes i am now a fan. He has really won me over since joining the twitterati with his open honesty where i used to think he was a bit of an arse. I appreciate that we don’t get canned responses and that he genuinely appreciates what his team does for him. A true team player.

  12. Cavendish’s win today was impressive. A tricky finish and not the usual Cavo win behind the HTC lead out train. To beat Gilbert, Husvold, Griepel, etc was a fine performance. I would like to see Cavendish get in a few more sprints like these and also target some of the classics and major events. If he can add Olympic or World Road Race, plus a couple of the main classics then this would enhance his reputation. Also note a fine performance by Geraint Thomas, hopefully he will break through in the one day races in the next year or so.

  13. Bonjour !

    I do not think it is fair to compare Cavendish to Maertens who was really multi-talented…
    Grand Prix de Nations, many prologues, tons of classics, 13 stages in la Vuelta…
    He even sold stages in the TdF in I’m not mistaken…

    Do they have a similar style?
    My impression is that today’s races finales are riden at a much higher speed because the general fitness of the bunch is greater and “trains” are now adopted as a valid solutions by many teams.

    In my memory, Maertens could jump on the line OR lead a very, very long sprint.
    But they both share an impeccable sense of timing.
    Where Cavendis is the clear winner is that is a figure popular outside of cycling.
    And he should be the president of the Union of the racers.

    I wish everybody a nice Tour des Francs!


  14. Not that I care much for sprinters, as I’d want no stage to finish in a bunch sprint. But we’re not talking about the “greatest sprinter of all time”, at least yet. “The greatest pure sprinter” in the Tour’s history, perhaps, maybe, we’ll see. He’s still got to get a green jersey first. But the Tour’s history is only a fraction of cycling’s history. All in all, Cav is, and will surely always be, light years behind Maertens, Van Looy or Van Steenbergen, to name a few.

  15. Cavendish gets lead out by a well drilled team, whether it is to the very last 200m or cutting loose (like today) because his train was being swamped by attacks in the last km.
    He does not get to a winning position, without his team helping him from km zero.
    If you think otherwise, you’re doing a disservice to his team mates.
    He does not win by luck, he wins by being the fastest midget on two wheels.

    I doubt there has ever been a bike rider so naturally fast, but to grab that title ‘fastest sprinter of all time’ I’d like to see him win more diverse races.

  16. The guy can’t do any wrong in my eyes; brash, outspoken, brilliant, last years win on the Champs-Elysees was my favourite because of that amazing parallel shot of him besting Hushovd and Petacchi, but that win today was extraordinary, in light of the crashes on the stage and another disrupted lead out. Definitely the greatest of the current generation…

  17. In track and field, they always call the guy who is fastest at 100 meters “the fastest man alive”. They don’t ever seem to pay a lot of attention to someone who dominates at 200, 400 or above. M. Prevost’s comments give us a longer-term perspective on Cav’s place in history. I have certainly never seen anything like his accelerations, but my memories only go back about 12 years or so.

  18. @Beth I forgot to mention that Maertens was twice World Champion and that he had 53 wins in 1977 alone and that exclude his sprint against a horse 😉

    At some point he was racing 265 days per years…

    Cavendish is great but not dominant for the moment.
    But I like him. He is fearless on and off the bike.

  19. He could possibly go to joint 6th on the “all time” list if things go his way on this tour. Incredible. Merckx’ record is amazing though. Encroyable.

  20. Don’t forget that Freddy Maertens basically has had two careers. After his massive injury he came back to start winning in the Tour and a new world championship jersey after being written-off by everyone except his wife. True big-ring riding if you ask me.
    Cavendish is one of the best sprinters ever, but he has not shown the same hardness as Maertens has.

  21. Are we talking just the Tour De France here ? I think Cav will be one of the great sprinters of all time but what about Cipo? 191 Career wins , 42 of them coming from stage wins in the Giro. I think we need to look outside of July sometimes to appreciate just how good a rider is.

  22. There needs to be a new category of all time stage winners. Winners that actually participate in the stage to win, and those whose front wheel never reaches the front of the race until under 200 meters to go. I’ve got way more respect for riders like Voeckler or Gilbert. It’s called panache.

  23. the last few years, cav, with the help and guidance of htc, has dominated the tour sprints. they didn’t win them all, but no one came close to matching the number of wins. he seems to be on good form this year. i wouldn’t bet against him for the next few years either. he might not be this dominant, but he’ll do just fine, no matter what team he’s on. he does pretty good for himself the rest of the year too. add all those things together and it’s tough to argue against considering him as one of the best sprinters ever. sure, people don’t race as much as they used to, but it’s only fair to compare people with some consideration for the era they were/are part of. he might not be the best ever right now, or might never be, but if winning the biggest sprints of the year is the criteria, he’s definitely up there.

  24. I don’t think anyone doubts Cav’s ability to win a GT stage. What we are waiting for to ‘proclaim’ Cav as a ‘great’ are the one-day Classic and World Champ wins… I’m sure they will come though…

    As for his mouth – I much prefer a ‘brash & sassy’ sprinter than a robot-like automaton. Someone you either love or love-to-hate… The peloton needs colour!!

  25. I think it would be a mistake to put a full stop after “the greatest”. The word sprinter says a lot and in fact it’s surprising that other sprinters have not was as many stages in the past. Over a 10 year career, it’s less than two stages per year.

    Luc: good point with Maertens. And when we say he won 13 stages in the Vuelta… he won them all during one edition of the race. A very complete rider.

  26. I have a sneaking suspicion that HTC are outsmarting the other sprinters again this year. Whereas previously they’ve just brought a bigger gun to the shoot-out in the form of the best train, this year it looks to me like they’re deliberately spoiling their own efforts.

    HTC have been on the front earlier on multiple stages, putting their primary lead-out men into the wind from a lot further out than we’ve seen in previous years. Goss and Renshaw have been spent up to 800m from the line, leaving Cav (theoretically) exposed on the front.
    Except that, twice now, he’s deliberately sat up when in third wheel and let Renshaw and Goss get a gap. They keep going like he’s still on the wheel and their efforts seem to be for no gain, but in reality he’s making the other sprinters (who by now have spent their own trains getting onto his wheel) to fight for the lead with 500-600m to go. He drops back to fifth, sixth, eighth wheel, finds the right wheels moving forward, and then jumps on for a tow to the 200m mark, where he unleashes and (like last night) still comes around for the win.
    I think this might be a deliberate tactic because HTC are concerned that other teams now have the firepower to disrupt the HTC train, and have actually found ways to get into the train and disrupt it. So, in order to take control back from their rivals, they’re deliberately letting others disrupt the train because I think they’re so confident in Cav’s form (and his tactical nous) that they’ll leave him to ride back around them.
    It worked once (last night) and failed once (although admittedly he got caught up by a kamikaze rider and ended up too far back).

    If I’m right we might see Cav again let the wheel go with 800-1000m to go in the next few stages. I don’t think it will happen tonight (the stage 6 spin seems to point to everybody being at redline before then) but it’s still possible. Or I’m smoking the wrong herbs and seeing things that aren’t there…

  27. If and when Cavendish goes to sky he will be with the king of welsh cakes, Geraint Thomas, note he finished fifth and may turn out to be a better lead out that Renshaw!

  28. I don ‘t really understand why people have a problem with his interviews or opinions , most sportsmen are so boring it is untrue , they are careful to avoid saying anything interesting/controversial at all. Nice to see the bland boring PR types haven’t managed to change him too much .

  29. I think the problem with current rider personalities is that they’re measured against the likes of Merckx who was amazingly modest considering his palmares. Besides that, media impressions are so ratcheted up via instant media FB, twitter, blogs etc. Everything is amplified a thousand times. I do think Cav has mellowed in his media persona but his wins must be measured in context with the champions of the past in the way they won stages and races.

  30. Whoops… Apparently it was Gossy that I thought was Cav letting the wheel go last night. That would make everything I said complete rubbish. Again.

    Cav off the back today, not sure he’ll be there to contest the points – looks like Gilbert might get a bigger lead in the Green Jersey competition…

  31. Maybe, for now. He’s pretty untouchable – train or solo [see Milan San Remo 2009]. And with the little amount of media I read of him – he’s focused and passionate. Abrasive, sure – but not everyone can be the patron.

  32. Sorry this comment is just to agree with two points made

    CluteCramp – Re deliberate disruption – Thought the same straight after stage five it looked planned and encouraged the likes of Bossan-Hagen to go early – couldn’t word it quite that well (so didn’t)

    Matt Taber (and others who like Cav’s openness) – Definitely agree here makes the sport more interesting and at least gives the press something else to report on rather than the big “D”

  33. Re: Cavendish’s brashness.

    There’s often a difference between what he says and how it’s reported by papers eager for controversy. For example, I heard an unedited interview in which he was asked at the start of the Tour how many stages he thought he could win. He responded honestly – saying there were [n] number of flattish stages, plus some he thought they might be able to work something on – but added that although people might think he could just rack them up, it wasn’t realistic to expect multiple stage wins every year; that a Tour stage win is the highlight of any rider’s career and even one win would mean he’d had a good Tour. A pretty balanced and respectful (to the Tour) response. The report I read later said “Cavendish has harsh words for fans…”

    Yesterday on French TV his interview with Gerard Holtz was charming and open – we could hear his responses as well as the instant French translation, which sometimes left a little to be desired – and he utterly charmed Holtz (who’d already said he didn’t agree with Veillu at all when he’d said he was arrogant). To the point that Holtz even turned to camera afterwards and said he adored Cavendish, and thought he was a great guy and great for the sport.

    Laurent Jalabert was unavailable for comment. (Jalabert clearly can’t stand Cavendish. After the stage in which Cavendish was taken out on the final corner, Jalabert even accused him of dropping back beforehand because he’d been “scared” of the sprinters around him.)

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