Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Cavendish bags stage win No. 19

LEGEND IN HIS SIGHTS:The ‘Manx Missile’ is now three career stage wins behind Lance Armstrong — who is fifth on the all-time list with 22 victories


Riders in a breakaway pass a windmill on the 15th stage of the Tour de France from Limoux to Montpellier, France, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

British sprinting star Mark Cavendish overcame high winds and “bashing” in the peloton to collect his fourth stage victory at this year’s Tour de France on Sunday, as French rider Thomas Voeckler kept hold of the race leader’s yellow jersey for a sixth straight day.

Victory in the 15th stage was the 19th win on the Tour for Cavendish, who clocked 4 hours, 20 minutes, 24 seconds. Tyler Farrar of the US was second and Alessandro Petacchi of Italy was third, both with the same time as Cavendish.

The mostly flat 192.5km route through vineyards from Limoux to Montpellier was expected to favor the sprinters, giving them a chance to shine again after three days of tough climbs in the Pyrenees.

“I had a lot of trouble in the mountains. It was difficult,” the 26-year-old Cavendish said. “Today, it was a difficult, technical finish — there was wind on both sides and lot of bashing.”

The breezy conditions reminded Cavendish of his native Isle of Man.

“The wind today is the way it always is at home,” he said.

The Manxman is now three career stage wins behind Lance Armstrong — who is fifth on the all-time list with 22. Belgium’s Eddy Merckx holds the record with 34.

Voeckler, a 32-year-old rider with the Europcar squad, kept the overall lead that he first took in a crash-marred ninth stage and he surprisingly held it through the mountains.

“I am happy it was flat,” Voeckler said. “It was dangerous near the end, we knew that with a finish in town, you have to be really careful, plus the fact after two weeks there’s the fatigue factor.”

The main contenders also played it safe on the windswept ride toward the Mediterranean and finished in the pack right behind the sprinters. Frank Schleck of Luxembourg remains second overall, 1 minute, 49 seconds behind, while two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans in third, 2 minutes, 6 seconds back.

Defending champion Alberto Contador is seventh, 4 minutes back.

Two punishing days await in the Alps on Thursday and Friday — each featuring uphill finishes — followed by what could be a decisive individual time trial in and around Grenoble on Saturday. The race ends on Sunday.

Voeckler, who has stunned himself by keeping the yellow jersey so long, has a word for his fellow French fans of cycling — Don’t expect me to bring it home.

“I don’t want to lie to the public,” Voeckler said. “Maybe it would make for good publicity, I don’t know, but it doesn’t interest me ... I’m not going to announce to the French people that: ‘I’m in yellow, I have a chance to win.’”

“I will fight of course, but I musn’t be dishonest,” he added, suggesting that the Alps and the time trial may be too much. “I consider I have a zero percent chance of winning the Tour de France.”

As the stage began, five riders — all about 2 hours behind Voeckler — surged out of the peloton at the 2km mark and built a lead of 4 minutes, 15 seconds, but the peloton, led by Cavendish’s HTC-Highroad team, barreled ahead before the intermediate sprint with 46km left to ride and narrowed the gap on the breakaway.

In that sprint, Cavendish went on to win the most points among contenders for the best sprinter’s green jersey by nosing out Jose Joaquin Rojas of Spain and Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert.

Nicki Terpstra of the Netherlands was among the breakaway riders, but he was caught with only 3km left.

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