Mark Cavendish wants to keep on racing for the foreseeable future after once again proving himself at the highest level during the Tour de France.
The 36-year-old won his fourth stage of this year’s race on Friday to equal the record of 34 Tour stage wins held by the great Eddy Merckx – continuing a remarkable resurgence since fearing his career was over last winter.
Last week, Deceuninck-QuickStep boss Patrick Lafevere used his newspaper column to say he would speak to the Manxman about a new contract after the Tour, but wrote that Cavendish may see a record-breaking victory on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday, should he achieve it, as the time to say goodbye.
But retirement is not in Cavendish’s plans just yet.
“I have thought about (the future) but I’ve got to speak to this man,” Cavendish said as he gestured towards Lafevere on Monday’s rest day. “I just love it. I’m so happy riding my bike again, I’m so happy in this environment.
“I can’t carry on doing it forever but I still love it, I’ve shown I’m still competitive so I’d like to carry on.
“I just love riding my bike and if it means there’s something for other people to cheer and get inspiration from, for people to ride their own bikes as well, I’d like to carry on doing it as long as my body will let me.”
Sunday’s finale on the Champs-Elysees is one of two apparent sprint opportunities left in the Tour, which will resume on Tuesday with three more days in the Pyrenees before stage 19 offers the fast men hope on the road to Libourne.
Having tried to ban talk of Merckx’s record before he equalled it, Cavendish said on Monday he was not thinking about the significance of potentially eclipsing it.
“Honestly, I have the same ambition to win one more stage as it was to win one 13 years ago,” he said. “Every opportunity to sprint I’d like to win, in every opportunity for a stage win elsewhere, I’d like to do what I can for the team to win. That’s why we’re here.
“It’s weird. There’s no sentiment to the thinking of wanting to win. It’s just about wanting to win whenever the situation arises.”
Cavendish’s stage wins so far have put him in a commanding position in the Tour’s points classification – he leads by 72 points, 279 to 207 from Michael Matthews.
Cavendish was the first British winner of the green jersey when he took it in 2011, prior to Peter Sagan’s dominance in the competition, but insisted it remained a secondary target for the final week.
If he can achieve his first goal, however, green will come with it.
“Throughout my whole career the stages take precedent,” he said. “The green maybe comes from that, and that’s the same now. I didn’t plan to come here for green, I came to try to win a sprint stage and it just came as a bonus.
“It would be be beautiful to have it in Paris and if we continue to win sprints we should have it in Paris. It doesn’t change the game plan.”
Cavendish must survive the mountain stages to come first, a constant battle for sprinters as they race to make the time cut every day.
“You’re nervous every day for the time limit but there is nothing we can do about it, we just have to try and get through it as best as possible,” he said.
“I don’t like to pre-empt how stages are going to go but the toughest ones for us hopefully have passed…
“This has probably been the hardest Tour de France I’ve ever done but I’m looking forward to the next three days and hopefully we should be OK.”