The victory was Cavendish’s fourth stage win at this year’s race. The Brit still has two opportunities to break the record before the race reaches Paris on July 18.
“The boys were incredible, I can’t believe it. I was so on the limit in the end,” said Cavendish after the Tour’s stage 13, adding no rider could be compared to Merckx.
“My dream as a kid was to win one stage on the Tour de France and I worked so hard for it. If any one of my wins can inspire kids to ride the Tour de France that’s what means the most to me.”
The win looked in jeopardy with 36 kilometers to go when Cavendish suffered a flat tire, but he was able to rejoin the peloton and position himself for the victory.
The 36-year-old, whose first Tour stage win came back in 2008, was a late add to the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team after its main sprinter suffered an injury before the start of the Tour.
Cavendish had hinted about retirement last year after crashing out of the Tour in 2017 and finishing outside the time limit in his last participation in 2018.
There are still eight stages left in the Tour, six of which include mountains where Cavendish is not expected to finish with the frontrunners. His first opportunity to break the record will come on next Friday’s flat stage after the race passes the Pyrenees.
Merckx acquired the nickname of ‘The Cannibal’ as testament to an unrelenting appetite for victories.