Britain’s Mark Cavendish beat hail, rain and rival sprinters to snatch the 11th stage of the Tour de France and seize the green jersey on Wednesday in the last flat stage before the Pyrenees.
The Briton’s third-stage win in this edition, his 18th in four Tours, was one of the smoothest if not the driest at the end of a 167.5km ride where Frenchman Thomas Voeckler kept hold of the yellow jersey. Ideally set-up in the final stretch in Blaye-les-Mines by his faithful lead-out teammate Mark Renshaw, Cavendish surged ahead 200m from the line in Lavaur.
Germany’s Andre Greipel, who beat his former team leader the previous day in Carmaux, had to be content with second place this time ahead of American Tyler Farrar — winner of the third stage in Redon.
“Yesterday I feel I made a small mistake, Andre rode one of the most technically sound sprints I’ve ever had to sprint against,” Cavendish told reporters. “What gets me down is to see these eight guys ride themselves to the ground for me and I can’t finish the job for them. I told them I’ll win tomorrow. And I had to win after the work those eight guys did today. There was no other option really,” he said about his HTC Highroad teammates.
Cavendish’s victory was all the more impressive as his foot hit the front wheel of Frenchman Romain Feillu with 500m to go so that the buckle of his shoe came off and he had to put it back on.
“I was lucky there were no swerves in the peloton. It could have been quite dangerous,” he said.
However, there was no denying the Manx Missile even though the heavy storm that poured on the riders in the finale did not help the chase behind the day’s early escapees, who were reined in 2km from the line. One of the hardest parts of the Tour now starts for the British sprinter, who struggles in the mountains, with three days up in the Pyrenees.
However, he will almost certainly keep the points classification green jersey until the beginning of the third week in Montpellier.
Cavendish, who has made the green jersey one of his main goals on this Tour, now leads the points standings on 251 points followed by Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas on 235 and Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert on 231.
Voeckler retained his overall lead with a one minute, 49 seconds advantage over Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez and 2:26 over Australia’s Cadel Evans.
“It was a wet and stressful day, but one more day in the yellow jersey is great. To be honest, I expect to lose it tomorrow, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight to keep it,” Voeckler said.
In spite of the dreadful weather and recent crashes, none of the favorites found themselves in trouble in the short ride to Lavaur — Evans, three-times champion Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers all finished inside the main pack. They were to have have 211km and three classic climbs to the finale of yesterday’s stage in Luz Ardiden to battle it out.
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