Injury-free Cavendish ready to chase Tour de France stage record

Mark Cavendish of Great Britain, riding for Team Dimension Date for Qhubeka. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Mark Cavendish is ready to put his Tour de France heartbreak behind him, having made a full recovery from a horror crash at the 2017 event that left his career in jeopardy.

The 2011 world champion fractured his shoulder after a collision with Peter Sagan in stage four of the race, ending his bid to become the rider with the most stage wins in the history of cycling's grand event.

But the Team Dimension Data rider is back on the bike and looking forward to a more successful 2018, having finally gotten over his injury and illness problems.

"I'm completely over it, it was a long way to recover, the complication with the injury meant I didn't recover properly initially and that posed a threat to my career," Cavendish told assembled journalists at a charity event for Qhubeka in Paarl, South Africa on Thursday.

"I have been in the gym working on it and I don't have any problems with it now, so I am just looking forward to starting the season," he added.

Cavendish is chasing legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx's record of 34 stage wins at the Tour de France and is four behind, but he says it is not a record that consumes him, though it does provide motivation to stay in the saddle.

"It doesn't 'matter' to me, but at the end of the day there is nobody in the world that has more respect for the Tour de France than I do," Cavendish says.

"One stage win in the Tour de France will make a riders' career.

"I'm fortunate to have been on incredible teams and amass my 30 stage wins, and so maybe why it [the record] is a goal now is because it is reachable, I can see it.

"I have now done everything within my physiological realms on a bike, I am at a loss to set targets unless it is just to repeat what I have done before.

"This gives me a different opportunity and a new target. It's a chance to move forward and my whole career has been about moving forward. But it's not something that I am desperate to get."

Cavendish is the lead rider in South African outfit Team Dimension Data, which has made huge strides in cycling in recent years after becoming the first team from Africa to compete in the Tour de France, debuting in 2015.

The capture of Cavendish, along with Mark Renshaw, Steve Cummings, and Bernhard Eisel, was a major coup for the team, and the former says there were a number of reasons why he made the switch from Etixx-QuickStep in late 2015.

"Two years ago this team was basically just a club in South Africa. But people got to learn what they were about and they got opportunities with wild cards to race," Cavendish says.

"They showed with some good performances and that they are able to step up. The difference is it was a low-budget team, but with that success came interest from sponsors and riders, and over the last few years there has been an influx of some of the biggest names in riding.

"It's beautiful to see, there is definitely something going right there and obviously that attracts the big names."

The team's full name is 'Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka', with the last word (Nguni for 'To move forward') relating to a charity aimed at increasing the number of bicycles in communities that cannot afford them, across the continent. Their slogan is Bicycles Change Lives, and Cavendish is fully immersed in this aspect of the team.

He says: "From my personal experience, this team looked fun from the outside, it looked like something different. I never lie when I say the charity is a big draw, it's not just a charity name on a jersey, it's the core of what the team does, to raise awareness and put kids on bicycles in Africa.

"It creates a nice environment to be in and it makes me happy to be on the road with a group of people that I trust and have a good time with."

Cavendish was in attendance on Thursday to hand over 150 bicycles to children from a school in Paarl, 45 minutes outside Cape Town, and another 25 bikes to a local Neighbourhood Watch programme.

He says the charity element is a major motivator: "From a personal point of view, when I first spoke to [team owner] Doug [Ryder] in 2015, I explained that I thought it was pretty cool what the team does. He said to me, 'just wait until you see a handover'.

"I thought it was be a nice thing to do, but you don't really understand the impact until you see it and for me it was a big drawcard. It touches you somewhere, it really sticks with you for the whole year and it is an incredible emotion.

"It's amazing to see what a bike means, it's something that we take for granted, it's my tool for work, like a writer's pen, but it's incredible to see how it can change one life, let alone a couple of hundred."

The charity element, which is run by Qhubeka, has to date handed out over 17,000 bicycles to communities across Africa since 2013.