Mark Cavendish returns in '24, to seek record in Tour de France

Mark Cavendish has delayed plans to retire and will continue to compete for Astana Qazaqstan in 2024, the team announced Wednesday, with the British cyclist set to continue his quest for a record-breaking Tour de France stage victory.

Cavendish, who announced his retirement in May, is tied with Belgian great Eddy Merckx with 34 stage wins.

Now 38, Cavendish had equaled Merckx's record during the 2021 Tour, 13 years after his first success. After coming close to winning the seventh stage at this year's Tour de France to set the record, Cavendish was forced out of the event after crashing in Stage 8 and breaking his collarbone.

The injury required surgery, and Cavendish has not raced since.

"I believe that a true champion should not end his career this way," Astana Qazaqstan general manager Alexandre Vinokourov said. "So I asked Mark if in a few years he would regret that he didn't try again and, in turn, suggested to reconsider his decision, to stay for another season, and still to try to win a stage in the Tour de France."

Cavendish said he had been content with his decision to retire but opted to delay it after speaking with Vinokourov and his family.

"I was looking forward to not having to get up and train every day and not to be away from home for such a long time, instead spending time with my family," Cavendish said. "Obviously, crashing out of the Tour de France was not a finish of my career I hoped for. ... The first thing Vinokourov said to me there at the Tour de France after my crash was 'why not do another year?'

"... I discussed it with my family, my kids, and I got their answer: 'You should carry on, well, just one more year.'"

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, who specializes in the sprints, has never won overall.

Cavendish has completed 206 stages, winning 16.5% of them, according to statistics provided by Tour de France organizers. His speed, prowess and longevity among his fellow sprinters have no equal at the Tour.

He won the Tour de France best sprinter's green jersey twice. He has won stages at all three Grand Tours -- the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta -- and became a world champion in 2011.

Cavendish joined Astana Qazaqstan this year after his contract with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl expired and he was overlooked for the 2022 edition of the Tour.

"While this season Mark's arrival in the team was quite unexpected, then for the next year we are preparing thoroughly, seriously reviewing the squad, strengthening the sprint direction, making personnel changes," Vinokourov said.

Cavendish's hopes of winning another stage at the Tour received an immediate boost as his team also announced the signing of Michael Morkov. The experienced Danish rider was Cavendish's lead-out man when he equaled Merckx's record.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.