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Omega Pharma-Lotto strongman Philippe Gilbert tried to steal a march on the sprinters on Sunday, but HTC-Highroad would not be denied, and Mark Cavendish kicked to yet another victory in stage 15 of the Tour de France.
The green jersey once again gave the credit to his team for delivering him to the stage win ahead of Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD).
“I always say I can’t let the guys down when they ride like that,” said Cavendish after collecting his fourth win in the 2011 Tour and his 19th career victory in the race. “The reason my guys ride is because they have confidence in me. It was incredible.”
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar, meanwhile, was happy to spend a relatively uneventful day in the yellow jersey after battling to hang with the GC favorites on Saturday’s stage.
“Today the beginning of the race was not as hard as we expected. But all day long we had to be very careful because of the wind, the roundabouts,” he said.
The 192.5km leg from Limoux to Montpellier was a transition stage, bringing the Tour from the Pyrenees toward the Alps with only minimal time and distance devoted to transfers in advance of Monday’s second rest day.
It was a mostly flat route, entirely within the Languedoc-Roussillon region, that took the peloton slightly northeast and near the Mediterranean coast for a finish in Montpellier.
There was only one rated climb, the Category 4 Côte de Villespassans, a 2.2km ascent that averaged 4.6 percent and summited at 82km. The day’s lone intermediate sprint came at 146.5km in Montbazin.
Chilly day, hot start
The day dawned chilly and cloudy in Limoux, with strong winds south of town, but relatively calm at the start. Once again a break went early, just 2km into the stage, and it must have satisfied all the players because it had four minutes at the 20km mark.
120. Mickaël Delage, Fdj, at 1:48:54
138. Niki Terpstra, Quick Step, at 1:59:15
145. Anthony Delaplace, Saur-Sojasun, at 2:05:38
156. Samuel Dumoulin, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 2:13:15
163. Mikhail Ignatyev, Katusha, at 2:18:45
Europcar controlled the bunch for a bit until HTC sent a few riders forward to keep an eye on things for green jersey Cavendish. At 36km they had trimmed the gap to three minutes, perhaps with the itermediate sprint in mind.
Winds split the bunch into echelons, but the leash remained constant for some kilometers, hovering around the three-minute mark. It went back out to 4:05 as the break neared the top of the Côte de Villespassans, but soon started falling again.
Europcar yields chase to HTC
With 98km to go the gap was 2:42. Europcar was lending a hand, but race leader Voeckler called off his dogs, knowing he would need their help more in the Alps than in a sprinters’ stage.
With 64km to go the break’s advantage was two minutes and falling, but the break would not be caught before the intermediate sprint. Delage took top honors ahead of Dumoulin and Delaplace, while behind Cavendish got the best of Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Gilbert.
Twenty kilometers from the line the break was down to two riders with less than a minute’s advantage — Ignatyev and Terpstra. Behind, Leopard-Trek came forward briefly to keep the Schleck brothers protected in the mad dash to the line.
The chase gobbled up Delage, Delaplace and Dumoulin, but Ignatyev and Terpstra drove on, 38 seconds ahead of the peloton with 15km remaining. It would not be enough, not with Tony Martin driving the chase for HTC.
Terpstra glanced over one shoulder at the charging bunch and kept on going as Ignatyev sat up 6km from the line. He held an advantage of 13 seconds with 4km to go.
But like his fellow breakaways, he too would be caught short of the line. Garmin-Cervélo came to the front and that was it for Terpstra.
Gilbert has a go
Then, just as the catch came, Gilbert attacked with FdJ’s Anthony Roux and Thomas De Ghent (Vacansoleil) on his wheel.
Cavendish’s teammate Matt Goss said Gilbert, who won stage 1 to take the yellow jersey and has been a threat for Cavendish throughout, had to be brought to heel.
“Gilbert went, and you’ve got to worry,” said Goss. “You see how strong and how good he is. We certainly had to make sure we got him back.”
It was a long way out — Gilbert had 2.4km to go — and it wouldn’t work. The Belgian national champion eased off the gas as Lampre moved forward for Petacchi while Sky stepped up for Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ben Swift.
But in the end, it was HTC that delivered Cavendish to another victory. With just over 200 meters to race Cavendish emerged from the wheel of lead-out man Mark Renshaw and drove hard for the finish, where that that green jersey would soon be sitting a little more securely on his shoulders. Farrar took second with Petacchi third.
“I don’t think there’s been one of my 19 wins that I’ve done alone, and that just shows the commitment those guys have towards me and I’m incredibly lucky for that,” said Cavendish.
“I crossed the finish line first but it’s not just me. I did 200 meters today in a 200 km stage. The team rode and delivered me to the line. I’m incredibly proud to be associated with them.”
As for Farrar, he said that he and the rest of the peloton were looking forward to Monday’s rest day.
“I really wanted the win today but unfortunately it just didn’t turn out,” he said. “I think we’re all ready for the rest day tomorrow and we will look forward to next week and another try on the Champs.”
Patrick O’Grady and Agence France Presse contributed to this report. Stay tuned for an expanded report, photos, videos and more from the 2011 Tour de France.
- 1. Mark Cavendish (GBR), HTC-Highroad, 192.5km in 4:20:24 (44.4 km/h)
- 2. Tyler Farrar (USA) , Garmin-Cervélo, same time
- 3. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA), Lampre-ISD, s.t.
- 4. Daniel Oss (ITA), Liquigas-Cannondale, s.t.
- 5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP), Movistar, s.t.
- 1. Thomas Voeckler (FRA), Europcar, 65:24:33
- 2. Frank Schleck (LUX), Leopard-Trek, at 1:49
- 3. Cadel Evans (AUS), BMC Racing Team, at 2:06
- 4. Andy Schleck (LUX), Leopard-Trek, at 2:15
- 5. Ivan Basso (ITA), Liquigas-Cannondale. at 3:16