HTC-Columbia speedster Mark Cavendish won his third sprint finish of the 2010 Tour de France on Thursday — his 13th career Tour stage win — as the sprinters took center stage while the GC candidates played it cool on another sweltering day in France.
The break du jour was retrieved early on Thursday, and in the finale Cavendish’s HTC train was in clear command on the front of the bunch. But it was not a pretty sprint — Cav’s leadout man Mark Renshaw head-butted Garmin-Transitions’ Julian Dean three times in the dash to the line, and as Cavendish shot off his wheel on the left-hand side of the straightaway, smack up against the barriers, Renshaw then moved left, cutting off a late charge by Garmin’s Tyler Farrar.
The upshot was no surprise — Cavendish took the win, followed by Lampre’s Alessandro Petacchi and Farrar. Points leader Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) crossed seventh and surrendered the green jersey to Petacchi, who now leads that competition with 161 points, four more than the Cervélo man.
“It was a really hard sprint, very long,” Cavendish said. “I have been really suffering in this heat, but I wanted to win for this team. My third stage win here shows that I am the best sprinter in this Tour. We want to get to Paris to try to win again on the Champs-Elysees.”
That task was made significantly more difficult after race officials threw his lead-out man Renshaw out of the Tour.
“This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena,” said top race official Jean-Francois Pescheux. “Everyone could have crashed today.”
There were no other significant changes in the standings— Andy Schleck (Saxo) retained the yellow jersey by 41 seconds over Alberto Contador (Astana) with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) third at 2:45.
“The pressure is there every day when you’re in yellow,” Schleck said. “One mistake and it’s gone. I sacrificed everything to be ready for this Tour. I was second last year and I am trying to win. The team rode full-bloc in the end to avoid any danger.”
Out of the Alps
Stage 11 of the 97th Tour took the peloton out of the Alps into the foothills of the Drôme region. There was just one Category 3 climb in the 184.5km leg from Sisteron to Bourg-lès-Valence — the Col de Cabre at the 56km mark —and after that racers enjoyed a gradual downhill and flat finale.
It was a tight race in the points competition:
1. Thor Hushovd, Cervélo TestTeam, 138 points
2. Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre-Farnese, 131 points
3. Robbie McEwen, Katusha, 116 points
4. Joaquin Rojas Jose, Caisse d’Epargne, 98 points
5. Mark Cavendish, Team HTC-Columbia, 97 points
The stage included two intermediate sprints, the first at Montlaur en Diois (83.5km) and the second at Mirabel et Blacons (130km). Each offered 6, 4 and 2 points for the first three riders to hit the line.
Petacchi was intent on challenging green jersey Hushovd.
“The best way to fight for the green jersey is to win stages,” Petacchi told VeloNews before the stage got under way.
One rider not in the points hunt was Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions), who skipped sign-in and did not take the start. He apparently fractured his elbow in a crash in Wednesday’s stage and, despite hoping to continue, found the pain too severe. Charlie Wegelius (Omega Pharma-Lotto), also called it a Tour, reportedly with stomach issues, taking the peloton down to 181 riders from the original 198.
The break du jour
Despite the stage being tailor-made for a sprint finish, three riders gave it the gas just 4.5km into the day’s labors — Anthony Geslin (Française des Jeux), Stephane Auge (Cofidis) and Jose Alberto Benitez (Footon-Servetto) — and quickly began taking time on the field.
Benitez was the highest ranked rider in the break, sitting 145th at 1 hour and 32 minutes out of first, and thus the break was given some room to run. At 12km, the trio had an advantage of 3:40, and that’s about where it would stay as both break and bunch set a very moderate pace — about 37kph — in temperatures that once again cracked the mid-90s.
The early break
- José-Alberto Benitez (Footon-Servetto), 145th at 1:32:03
- Anthony Geslin,(FDJ), 155th at 1:37:50
- Stéphane Auge (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 165th at 1:43:20
The three leaders crested the Col de Cabre with an advantage of 2:17. As the bunch followed, Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) added to his lead in the mountains competition, snatching the final point on offer to lead Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 92 to 90.
The sprinters would not have to contend the first intermediate sprint — Geslin, Auge and Benitez, in that order, snapped up all the points on offer.
The gap came down as hares and hounds approached the feed zone, to just over 90 seconds, then went back out to two minutes with 78km to race.
The chase begins
Garmin’s Dave Zabriskie and HTC-Columbia’s Bert Grabsch were on the front with 90km to race, and the gap began coming down. With 70km to go the break’s advantage was down to 90 seconds, and it stayed there for the next 20km as the race rolled through Crest.
With 40km to go the gap was pegged at a minute, and Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) and two other opportunists tried an escape, hoping to bridge to the leaders — nothing doing, guys. They launched into a head wind and the sprinters’ representatives easily pulled them back.
The accelerations nibbled the break’s advantage down to just over a half-minute, and the bunch had the escapees in its sights. But it was too soon for the catch, so the chase dialed it down a bit and the gap went back out to a minute.
Thirty kilometers from the line the chase was back on, and the bunch was within 30 seconds of the break once more.
As the chase closed to within 13 seconds Auge attacked from the back of the break, but went nowhere. Geslin was next to try his luck, and then Benitez went, dogged by Auge, leaving Geslin behind to be swept up first.
It was all for naught. With 23km to go, the survivors surrendered to the inevitable. Gruppo compatto.
The final kilometers
With a left-hand turn and a shift in the wind approaching Team RadioShack moved to the front and ramped up the speed to keep Levi Leipheimer protected. Jérémy Roy and Anthony Roux (Française des Jeux) shot away, briefly, and to no particular purpose. Once they were unceremoniously yanked back Saxo Bank sent Jens Voigt to the front to lay down an authoritative pace and tamp down the nonsense.
Astana climbers David De La Fuentes, Jesus Hernandez and Daniel Navarro were popped off the back almost immediately in the crosswind, but Alexander Vinokourov was there for team leader Contador as Saxo Bank drilled it at more than 50kph (31 mph).
Eight kilometers from the line Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) attacked around the right side of the Saxo train, and Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) marked him immediately. Saxo Bank pulled off and HTC-Columbia took over, shutting the move down.
With 5km to go Lampre was challenging HTC at the front. Team Sky was moving up for Edvald Boasson Hagen. Garmin was there, too, for Farrar, Rabobank for Oscar Freire and Milram for Gerald Ciolek. Hushovd was on Petacchi’s wheel as the bunch sped along at nearly 40 mph.
Two kilometers out it was a Lampre-HTC drag race at the front. A right turn, then a left and the bunch was 1km from the line, with HTC in charge on the front. As Dean brought Farrar forward Renshaw began head-butting the Kiwi — once, twice, thrice — and then pushed Farrar up against the barriers as Cav’ shot ahead to win the stage.
Petacchi took second, taking the green jersey from Hushovd, while Farrar rebounded to finish third.
He said afterward that HTC-Columbia’s win-at-all-costs tactics were simply uncalled for.
“Everything was going great. I was on Julian’s wheel and he took me up to Cavendish’s wheel with 300 meters to go,” said Farrar.
“When Cavendish launched his sprint, Renshaw veered to the left and I had to put my hand on his back to steady myself.
“They just don’t need to race like that.”
- Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r) — the downed rider whose bike brought Tyler Farrar to a dead stop in the stage-1 sprint — fell over again today, collecting a nasty strawberry on the right hip.
Stage 12 courses through the Massif Central, winding on tiny back roads for most of the first 150km. The highest categorized climb of the day is the Cat. 2 Suc de Montivernoux at 4,500 feet elevation, but more important will be the final climb of the day, the Cat. 2 Croix-Neuve. This is the steepest hill of the entire Tour, rising up for 3.1km at 10 percent, with 14-percent pitches on its three switchbacks.
In 2005, Ivan Basso made a fierce attack out of the main group (a group of 10 finished more than 25 minutes ahead) on the final climb, followed by Armstrong, Ullrich and Evans. All four finished together, with Evans taking the sprint for 11th. More on stage 12.
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Best Young Rider (GC)
Team GC leader