Tour de France: Isle of Man ready to party on Mark Cavendish’s Day of Destiny in Paris

The battle for first place will begin before Mark Cavendish rolls into Paris this afternoon.

By the time this re-commissioned Manx rocket hits the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysées, the race to be at the front and center back at home could be completed.

‘We’re throwing a big party in Douglas, our capital,’ explains Dot Tilbury MBE, who helped run youth cycling in the Isle of Man when Cavendish first arrived in 1995 – and he still does.

A big party awaits Mark Cavendish in Douglas, regardless of the outcome in Paris on Sunday

‘There will be big screens, a big parade of bicycles to the Villa Marina. . . and a big party.’

Few could have foreseen Cavendish’s rebirth—and this date with the lot at 36. So have some on the island where his feat of strength began.

“The problem is that we are a busy island,” Tilbury continues. ‘Every weekend there is a lot going on all over the island: fairs, sports, secret gardens, afternoon tea. . .’

On Saturday, her village has a field day. “It is always well attended,” she adds. “But we hope for a good crowd in the Villa Marina to watch Mark. I’m sure there will be.’

The weather is well set; the forecast for Cavendish also looks promising.

The 36-year-old has had a remarkable resurgence at the Tour de France this year

The 36-year-old has had a remarkable resurgence at the Tour de France this year

Cavendish on the brink of breaking Eddy Merckx's record for most Tour stage wins ever

Cavendish on the brink of breaking Eddy Merckx’s record for most Tour stage wins ever

Remarkable to think that the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider hadn’t even looked at this year’s Tour de France a month ago. Not necessary, it seemed. He hadn’t made it to the race since 2018. He had not won a stage since 2016. And then an injury to Sam Bennett opened the door and Cavendish’s light frame slammed through. Four weeks and four stage wins later, he is on the edge of history.

The win in Paris would take him past Eddy Merckx’ record of 34 stage wins in the Tour. “I haven’t seen anyone come close for years,” said colleague Manxman and former teammate Peter Kennaugh.

“(I would) retire on stage. He won’t, because he can’t.’ Why?

‘He likes cycling, that’s his identity, that’s who he is.’

Just reaching this final stage in Paris speaks to Cavendish’s determination – in recent years he has battled injury, depression and the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus.

“How many people would have just said, enough is enough?” Kennaugh continues. “There wasn’t even a win on the horizon, let alone in the Tour.”

Cavendish's friends in the Isle of Man say cycling is his 'identity' ahead of Sunday's Sunday final

Cavendish’s friends in the Isle of Man say cycling is his ‘identity’ ahead of Sunday’s Sunday final

Even in recent weeks, the 36-year-old has struggled with the peculiar life of a sprinter – commanding the Alps and Pyrenees by his ‘wolfpack’ for the last few hundred meters of days like this.

This final sprint could cement Cavendish’s place among the nation’s greatest athletes ever.

“He would be on the podium of British sporting excellence,” said Stephen Park, British Cycling’s performance director.

When Cavendish matched Merckx’s number in Carcassonne, he said inspiring children to ride the Tour would mean more than any personal accolade. He could deliver both.

His legacy in Douglas was secured long ago. “In its heyday,” Tilbury says, “we must have signed over 500 children that year. I think it was the biggest kids bike club in the world, let alone Great Britain.”

Cavendish juggled cycling with football, athletics, ballroom dancing and a job at Barclays Bank before choosing his racing line.

Kennaugh was with him on many team trips. Now he covers Cav’s historic Tour as part of ITV’s coverage. “You see him in interviews – it’s not awkward, but it’s quite endearing. He was exactly the same on the boat trips I went on as a 15-year-old and I was nine.’

He had at least shed some of that boyish innocence when he arrived at British Cycling.

“He was just an Isle of Man chav who wanted to get out of Liverpool,” Welshman Geraint Thomas recently joked. “With his golden Opel Corsa, fully tuned up, it was terrible. He still is like that.’

Cavendish's love of cycling takes him all the way to Paris, where he hopes to achieve 34 wins

Cavendish’s love of cycling takes him all the way to Paris, where he hopes to achieve 34 wins

Cavendish once claimed that younger brother Andrew would have surpassed him – if only he had worked hard.

But Kennaugh, his brother Tim, Mark Christian and Matthew Bostock are among those who have followed him to the mainland — and the pinnacle of the sport.

What’s in the water there? Kennaugh has one statement: ‘In England you would probably be the only one in your school, let alone in your area, who likes cycling. Because the Isle of Man is so compact, you could cycle and hang out with (friends) at the same time. You never felt like you had missed your childhood.’

Tilbury adds: ‘Going round. Parents talk at the school gates: ‘My child is going to cycle, anyone can go. . . There are no restrictions on which bike you own – as long as it has two brakes, two wheels and a safe crash helmet. From there we go.’

Every now and then all the way to Paris.