Cyclist Mark Cavendish has said inspiring people to try the sport means more to him than winning medals.
The British rider has won four stages in this year’s Tour de France (TdF) and 34 overall, which equals Eddy Merckx’s all-time record.
Since his first TdF stage win in 2008, Cavendish told Sky News: “I’ve seen massive growth in cycling in the UK, not just in people racing bikes, but also people doing it to keep fit, commuting, families going out enjoying themselves.
“Honestly, that’s been the proudest thing in my career, to see that growth in cycling.
“If me being successful can inspire just one more person to get on a bike, that’s worth more than any medal for me.”
Defending champion, Tadej Pogacar, who leads this year’s race by more than five minutes, has said he grew up watching Cavendish, who was an inspiration to him.
The Slovenian told him he was seven when he won his first stage of the famous race, Cavendish said, which the British rider calls “crazy”.
Monday is a rest day on the tour, which the Deceuninck-QuickStep team rider said he had spent “mostly doing media”, admitting that “I guess if you’re doing media, it means you’ve been successful”.
“We’ve had a successful couple of weeks, five stage wins, I got four sprints.”
“Cycling”, he said, “is a strange sport”, as “only one can cross the finish line, but there’s a whole team behind it”.
“With football, a striker can score a goal, the whole team wins at the end of the day, cycling is like that, but only one guy stands on the podium.
“So that’s why it’s extra special if you have a group around you who have to deliver you to that moment, they have to protect you through the mountains and a lot of the time for no credit, no praise.”
Now a veteran of the tour, Cavendish, who was born on the Isle of Man and is known as “The Manx Missile”, said the extra years are a help, rather than a hindrance, to his success.
He said: “Especially in sprinting, experience plays quite a part. You learn how to read a race. You’ve got 170 bike riders all going for the same thing.
He joked: “For sure you need the legs,” but added it’s also useful “knowing how a race will go”.
His sport, he admits “can look a bit boring on TV, but there’s a lot going on” and “once you see things happening in split-seconds, it helps to know what’s going on”.
Cavendish will retain the green jersey as the points classification leader when the race resumes on Tuesday.