Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia HTC seized his fourth Tour stage victory today in a difficult uphill sprint in the narrow streets of Saint Fargeau, regaining the Green Jersey from competitor Thor Hushovd.
We guess that means the man with the long black eyelashes and boyish grin will be donning those matching green sunglasses again and putting another winged notch on his bicycle today.
The "fastest man in the world" Cavendish has now won 8 stages of the Tour de France in two years.
From the town that literally translates to "get lost" in French argot, the 192 km course to Saint Fargeau had some 4 and 5 category climbs and a slight uphill finish--perfect for Cavendish to boost his points and regain the coveted standing as fasted sprinter.
In the overall standings, even Christian Vande Velde maintained eighth place after a bad crash at 15 km. Nocentini is still first, Contador second and Armstrong third.
Today, just about every sprinter in the tour was looking to take this finish. Oscar Freire, a previous winner in an uphill sprint at Barcelona against Hushovd, was looking for a win from the beginning. About 13 miles to the finish, the Rabobank team sent a rider up to the front of the peloton to get ready for the uphill sprint at the finish.
But getting ahead of steamroller Cavendish requires somehow getting around him, or getting rid of him. It was close: Team Milran almost spoiled it for the Columbia boys who set their Manx man up perfectly, even around the tight corners of the smallest town in the Tour (pop. 1,800)
An early breakaway got off at 23 km, with Polish national champion Marcin Sapa (LAM), and Johan Vansummeren (SIL), who were ahead of the peleton by as much as 4 minutes for more than 165 kilometers. But less than 5 miles from the finish, the two were caught.
In the history of the Tour, only one rider from Poland has won a stage, Zenon Jaskula in St-Lary Soulon in 1993. Riding for the GB-MG team, he finished third overall that year.
With the breakaway leaders visible from the peleton and only 15 seconds ahead, other teams started coming to the front at 5 km from the finish: Columbia HTC, Cavendish's team put the pedal, down racheting up the speed so high that one of their riders had to pull off early, more than 2 km from the finish.
They were preparing for the narrowing streets in the final kilometers, where riders could be shed by narrowing street width and tight turns.
Garmin Slipstream, Tyler Farrar's team also surged to the front, and registered a 72 km per hour speed as other big teams wrestled for space near the front. Milram swamped in to the front, as did Lampre and Liquigas for their sprinters.
Still Columbia picked up the pace, and stayed at the front so that no one could come from behind and confuse the finish. At about 1.4 km to the finish two or three Milram riders split the Columbia steamroll at the front.
It was touch and go then, with Hincapie leading out in the front, he pushed the pace and with Mark Renshaw behind him, Cavendish was fourth to the line. As the two Columbia riders moved off, Farrar came on the left and Huhovd was on Cavendish's wheel--then came around and tried to beat him to the line, but in the last second, Cavendish put the steel hammer down and took the win.
Farrar hit his handlebars in frustration--you just can't get around the man! But Farrar also had to take precious seconds to get around Hushovd.
The average speed for the first hour was the fastest yet in this year’s Tour: 49.3km per hour.
With no significant action from the top three general classification riders, Nocentini, Contador and Armstrong, some people might be wondering what has happened to them, maybe even if they have fallen asleep on their handlebars.
But with sprint finishes like these there is no point inching up to first place, because then you just have to defend the yellow jersey for the next 10 days. Especially for riders like Armstrong, who in the past has had to defend his Yellow through many stages and multiple attacks. It seems he's taking a more mature approach to the race, and is leaving the defense to the toughest stages in the Alps that begin on Friday, July 17.
Another rider Sebastian Rosseler (QSI) were involved in a crash at 15km, and a second crash involved Rojas and Jerome Pineau (QSI). The second crash led to a split in the peleton which came back together closer to the finish.
Kurt Asle Arvesen (SAX), the rider who crashed yesterday and broke his collarbone in two places is out of the Tour.
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo 87 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 43h 28' 59"
2. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA 43h 29' 05" + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance 22 ASTANA 43h 29' 07" + 00' 08"
4. LEIPHEIMER Levi 24 ASTANA 43h 29' 38" + 00' 39"
5. WIGGINS Bradley 58 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 43h 29' 45" + 00' 46"
6. KLÖDEN Andréas 23 ASTANA 43h 29' 53" + 00' 54"
7. MARTIN Tony 76 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 43h 29' 59" + 01' 00"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian 51 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 43h 30' 23" + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy 31 TEAM SAXO BANK 43h 30' 48" + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo 95 LIQUIGAS 43h 30' 53" + 01' 54"
11. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon 118 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 43h 31' 15" + 02' 16"
1. CAVENDISH Mark 71 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 4h 17' 55"
2. FARRAR Tyler 53 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
3. HUTAROVICH Yauheni 104 FRANCAISE DES JEUX 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
4. FREIRE Oscar 44 RABOBANK 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
5. HUSHOVD Thor 6 CERVELO TEST TEAM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
6. DUQUE Leonardo 124 COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
7. CIOLEK Gerald 182 TEAM MILRAM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
8. MONDORY Lloyd 86 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
9. BONNET William 143 BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
10. TRUSSOV Nicolaï 168 TEAM KATUSHA 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"