Mark Cavendish can climb another rung up the ladder of all-time Tour de France greats today after banishing bronchitis with victory on stage five in Marseille.
The Manxman flew to his 24th career stage win despite feeling the lingering affects of an infection, and with another sprint finish expected on stage six to Montpellier today, he could match Andre Leducq’s tally of 25 wins, third on the all-time list.
Yesterday’s win ignited Cavendish’s Tour, which began with disappointment when his shot at the yellow jersey went missing amid the chaos of stage one before he suffered through the Corsican mountains battling illness.
There was frustration on Tuesday too when his Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad missed victory in the team time trial in Nice by a single second, but all of that was forgotten last night.
“Finally after the disappointment of the first stage and missing out by less than a second in Nice we have opened our account at the Tour de France,” Cavendish said. “Morale is great at Omega Pharma-Quick Step and the only way to make it better is by winning stages at the Tour de France.”
Cavendish blew away his rivals on the Marseille seafront but must today avoid getting blown away himself.
Stage six takes the riders into the crosshairs of the famed Mistral - a cold wind which blows south to the sea.
The locals will tell you it can rip the ears off a donkey, and today it is forecast to howl.
But if Cavendish can handle that, another sprint finish is expected on the predominantly flat course and, as his rival Peter Sagan admitted last night, it seems no one can beat the Manx Missile in a straight fight.
Leducq is no longer around - having recorded his wins in a career from 1927 to 1935 before passing away in 1980 - but Cavendish has been spending plenty of time with the last man he passed on the all-time stage wins list, Andre Darrigade, who had 22 victories between 1953 and 1964.
With two of the Tour’s greatest icons Bernard Hinault (28 stage wins) and Eddy Merckx (34) next on the list after Leducq, Cavendish may need to get used to such exalted company.
However, the 28-year-old refuses to set himself any targets beyond the finish line of the next stage.
“The Tour de France is the Tour de France: you have to show it the respect it deserves,” he said.
“One stage of the Tour de France makes a rider’s career, let alone one stage a year but you have to be content to come and win when we can.
“Obviously I aim to win more than a stage each year but to set more goals, it does one of two things: it sets you up to fail for something or it puts a mark on what you can achieve and you stop trying to move forward.
“I want to win. I changed teams because I realise this race is everything for me in my career, and I want to come here and win as much as possible and give the race the respect it deserves.”