The Manxman, 36, beat Deceuninck-QuickStep team-mate Michael Morkov and Alpecin-Fenix’s Jasper Philipsen to victory on stage 13 from Nimes to Carcassonne on Friday as he continued his incredible comeback.
It was four-time world champion, sprint specialist Cavendish’s fourth stage win at the 2021 Tour already and saw him move level with the legendary Belgian cyclist Merckx, who won 34 stages in total between 1969-75.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar retains possession of the Yellow Jersey, holding a 5min 18sec lead over closest rival Rigoberto Uran in the overall classification with eight stages remaining, with a hilly journey from Carcassonne to Quillan to come on Saturday.
“It’s tiring,” Cavendish - who had previously not won a stage at the Tour de France since 2016 - said afer equalling the record.
“I can’t even think about it. I’m afraid I’m so dead after 220km in that heat, that wind and that finale, phwoar.
“I went deep, I went so deep there. The boys were incredible. I can’t believe it. A lot of the day it didn’t feel like it [was going to happen] but it had to happen because I had the guys riding like they were.
“I was so on the limit there.”
He added: “I haven’t realised it [the record]. It’s still just another win on the Tour de France. It’s like my first one. I’ve won a stage of the Tour de France. It’s what I dreamed of as a kid and it’s what I dream of now.
“I’ve worked so hard for it. We’ve seen such a growth, especially in the UK, of cycling since I’ve started racing here at the Tour de France.
“If any one of my wins can inspire the kids to ride the Tour de France or the Tour de France Femmes from next year when they grow up, that’s what means the most to me I think.”