Mark Cavendish of Columbia HTC was the final sprint winner in the Limoges to Issoudin stage today, a stage marked by slow riding, a fast finish, and cheering French fans celebrating Bastille Day in between.
With only 350 meters to the line, Mark Renshaw of Team Columbia led out Mark Cavendish to the finish, with Green Jersey holder Thor Hushovd close behind him--but Cavendish was too fast, and beat him to the line.
They didn't say he is the fastest man in the world for nothing. This is now Mark Cavendish's third stage win for the 2009 Tour de France.
And remember those handsome young men from the Columbia HTC team we pictured in the preview of the stage today? Well they led Cavendish to the sprint finish like a steam train, carving the corners of Issoudin like sling blades.
The sprint came miles from the finish line: For most of this stage four die hard riders, three of them French--held off the peleton by between 3 and 1 minutes for almost the entire race.
It was a pity a Frenchman did not win on this national French holiday. But the group behind them was too fast once the riders decided to catch up. Up to then, both groups seemed to be taking it easy, and not pushing it on this first flat stage since the three grueling days in the Pyrenees.
The top standings of the Tour overall remain the same, with Nocentini in the Yellow Jersey, Contador second, and Armstrong third.
Hushovd is still the Green Jersey holder because he is still 6 points ahead of Cavendish. Tyler Farrar came in third in the sprint. In an interview Hushovd said he lost some time in the corner before the finish, and then could not come around steamroller Cavendish.
Egoi Martinez who wrested away the Polka Dot jersey in the Cols of the Pyrenees, is still in first place for the King of the Mountain.
And Tony Martin of Columbia HTC still has the White Jersey, for the best young rider, ahead of Andy Schleck.
Prior to the last few kilometer many other teams took the lead at the front, including the Italian team Liquigas which may have been trying to bring sprinter Daniele Bennati to the line. Bennati was a three-time stage winner at the Giro D'Italia in 2008, and in two of those, he beat Cavendish to the line.
But outside of the finish, the day was a bit of a yawn for race watchers including Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen of Versus who seemed to be struggling to find something interesting to say.
The most excitement of the day came with a crash around the 105 km mark that injured Kurt Asle Arvesen of Saxo Bank, a rider who is needed to assist team leaders like Andy Schleck in the climbs coming up in the Alps. Later much was made of the fact that Cancellara was seen giving his food to Arvesen, because the injured rider missed the feed zone while trying to catch up.
The events of the day were embroidered by short vignettes and interviews with the riders, including one with David Millar of Garmin Slipstream reviewing a new bike shoe painted with the British flag. "I bet he'll be getting a free pair of those," Liggett said gamely after it aired.
There was some speculation that the pace of the race, which even seemed to lag among the four breakaway riders was due to the radios being banned for the first time.
But the reality was it might have been the best day for this kind of a ride, because the roads were mostly flat, and the lead group about 1 to 3 minutes ahead of the pack at any time was in view most of the way anyway.
But rider fatigue could have been a part of the slow pace too, because rest days often have the opposite effect, of allowing riders' bodies the ability to relax, and therefore slow down a bit.
If you are considering going to the Tour next year, or even catching the last most grueling stages next week, check out this video of fans at the Tour. It's a bit self-serving, having been created by the ASO, the race organizers, but fun nonetheless.
It just shows, you don't need to be a bike rider to go watch the Tour, but it certainly is nice if you are.
Overall standings at the end of Stage 10:
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo 87 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 39h 11' 04"
2. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA 39h 11' 10" + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance 22 ASTANA 39h 11' 12" + 00' 08"
4. KLÖDEN Andréas 23 ASTANA 39h 11' 58" + 00' 54"
5. LEIPHEIMER Levi 24 ASTANA 39h 11' 58" + 00' 54"
6. MARTIN Tony 76 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 39h 12' 04" + 01' 00"
7. WIGGINS Bradley 58 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 39h 12' 05" + 01' 01"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian 51 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 39h 12' 28" + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy 31 TEAM SAXO BANK 39h 12' 53" + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo 95 LIQUIGAS 39h 12' 58" + 01' 54"
11. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon 118 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 39h 13' 20" + 02' 16"
1. CAVENDISH Mark 71 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 4h 46' 43"
2. HUSHOVD Thor 6 CERVELO TEST TEAM 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
3. FARRAR Tyler 53 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
4. DUQUE Leonardo 124 COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
5. ROJAS Jose Joaquin 117 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
6. MONDORY Lloyd 86 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
7. VAN HUMMEL Kenny Robert 199 SKIL-SHIMANO 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
8. BONNET William 143 BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
9. BENNATI Daniele 92 LIQUIGAS 4h 46' 43" + 00' 00"
10. HADDOU Saïd 145 BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 46' 43"