AP PHOTOS: Mark Cavendish and his 34 Tour stage wins

CARCASSONNE, France (AP) — Mark Cavendish has saved the best for the end: Matching the great Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stage wins at the twilight of his storied career.

The sprint veteran equaled the record on Friday in the southern city of Carcassonne, 13 years after he claimed his maiden win.

Last October, the former world champion posted an insignificant 74th place at the Belgian classic Gent-Wevelgem. Depressed and dejected, with his contract with the Bahrain McLaren team almost over, the sprinter from the Isle of Man suggested in an emotional post-race interview it could well have been his final race.

This summer at cycling’s biggest event, the tears of sadness made way for those of happiness after Cavendish posted four stage wins in a dominant manner to match Merckx’s record.

Against all odds, Cavendish revived his career when he secured a new contract with his former Deceuninck Quick Step outfit for this year after convincing the team management he could still perform at a high level. But he was not expected to ride at the Tour and did not train specifically for the three-week race. He received a last-minute call-up this month, as an injury replacement for Sam Bennett, the best sprinter of last year’s Tour.

Cavendish has turned the selection into a jackpot, piling up wins like he did during his heyday when, as a young and brash rider, he quickly earned the “Manx Missile” nickname for his sprinting prowess.

From his first stage victory at age 23 in 2008 to his latest wins this summer, The Associated Press looks back to the achievements of the greatest sprinter in the Tour de France’s history.

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