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Cavendish crashes out of Tour de France in last attempt at outright record

Mark Cavendish Mark Cavendish - The Canadian Press

Mark Cavendish will have to share the record for most career stage wins at the Tour de France.

Competing in his final season, the most successful sprinter in Tour history crashed out during Saturday's eighth stage. His team said he broke his right collarbone and will need surgery.

Cavendish equaled Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins during the 2021 Tour, 13 years after his first success, but was not selected last year.

This edition was his last chance to become the outright record-holder after he announced in May during the Giro d’Italia that he will retire from cycling at the end of this season.

Cavendish ended the Giro in style, winning the final stage in the historic center of Rome to post his 17th stage win at the Italian Grand Tour.

Known as “The Manx Missile” as he's from the Isle of Man, Cavendish was second in Friday’s seventh stage.

The 38-year-old former world champion crashed with 63 kilometres left while riding at the back of the peloton at about 45 kilometres per hour.

TV images showed the veteran rider lying on the ground and holding his right shoulder in pain.

Cavendish’s teammate, Gianni Moscon, said he had to brake suddenly because of a crash in front of him “and someone changed line and he just hit the rear wheel of the guy in front of him and went down.”

“It was quite bad," Mosconi added. "I stayed with him but he wasn’t able to go on with the race so we had to go back in the peloton.”

Cavendish went into an ambulance for treatment and looked ashen-faced before his retirement from the race was announced.

Astana-Qazaqstan public relations manager Philippe Maertens told The Associated Press that Cavendish was hospitalized in the city of Perigueux.

He added that a screw that was inserted during the 2017 Tour to fix a scapula injury had become loose after his latest crash. Maertens added that Cavendish was expected to return home soon.

Merckx amassed his wins in the 1960s and 70s, an era during which his domination was such that he earned the nickname “The Cannibal.” Unlike Merckx, who won a record five Tours, Cavendish has never won and specialized in the sprints.

His speed, prowess and longevity among his fellow sprinters have no equal at the Tour.

Since his first Tour in 2007, Cavendish has completed 206 stages, winning 16.5 per cent of them, according to statistics provided by race organizers.

“It’s so sad for a legend to finish the Tour like this,” said former world champion Mads Pedersen, who won Saturday's stage in a mass sprint. “For me it was a pleasure to be able to ride with Mark Cavendish. I always had a good relationship with him in the peloton. Hopefully I can do some of the last races he does.”

Cavendish became the fifth rider to abandon this year after Enric Mas, Richard Carapaz, Jacopo Guarnieri and Luis Leon Sanchez, who all crashed out.

That became six toward the end of Saturday's stage when Belgian rider Steff Cras was caught in yet another pileup and retired.

Cavendish was not selected for last year’s Tour by his former Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team and joined the Astana-Qazaqstan team in January to extend his storied career by one season, hoping he would add at least one more more stage win.

Cavendish also won the Tour de France best sprinter’s green jersey twice.

He has won stages at all three Grand Tours — Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Spanish Vuelta — and became a world champion in 2011.

“It's really, really, a shame. Everybody wanted to see him go for one more win," two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogacar said.