But Cavendish had other ideas. This summer, at the age of 36, he returned to the Tour in the unlikeliest of circumstances, winning four more stages to draw him level with the record of 34 set by the legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx. The bare facts of this are impressive enough. But set against the context of a debilitating illness, a crippling bout of clinical depression, a public that had written him off and a sport that had largely forsaken him, it should probably go down as one of the most remarkable sporting comebacks of our time.
And so, while most of us conceive of professional cycling in terms of suffering – lung-busting sprints, brutal training rides, the tortuous mountain ascents of the Tour de France – Cavendish sees things differently. For all the sweat and pain he endures in the saddle, he knows from bitter experience that the real agony is not being able to ride at all.
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