By Brecht Decaluwé in Châteauroux
In much the same way that they dominated several sprint finishes at the Giro d'Italia, the riders from Team Columbia assumed total control of the stage five finale to Châteauroux, piloting their sprinter Mark Cavendish to his first successful Tour stage victory. As Cavendish himself said: "When you have a team like I have, it's impossible not to win."
"We started to ride at about eight kilometres from the finish and I was there until three kilometres from the finish line," explained the current best young rider, white jersey Thomas Lövkvist. The young Swede was also working hard earlier in the stage, together with Adam Hansen and Marcus Burghardt.
"Today went perfect as we didn't have to chase too hard. We got them in the last second," added Austrian Bernhard Eisel.
Swedish time trial specialist Lövkvist dropped back from the Columbia train with three kilometres to go. "Then Adam [Hansen] took over and I watched it from behind," Lövkvist said.
At that stage there were still five team-mates up front to support Cavendish. Eisel was still one of them and described the chaos going towards the last corner at 1.6 kilometres from the finish line. "I was on Kimmi's wheel, but we lost contact. We managed to get back up there while Burghardt and [George] Hincapie were pulling.
"George led the bunch into the corner and kept pulling on that first uphill section. Kimmi [Kim Kirchen] then went with 1000 metres to go. I was waiting, because I couldn't see them [on my wheel]," Eisel explained.
The Austrian was surprised by a move from the Quick Step team. "At a certain moment Steven De Jongh came up on the left, but luckily I saw Ciolek and Cav on his wheel, I flanked Cavendish for a while and noticed I had guys like Freire on my wheel. So I dropped back while a lot of other guys were shouting," Eisel laughed, knowing that some sprinters had to get round him to have any chance of winning the stage.
From then on it was all about Mark Cavendish. "There was a lot of fighting going on, and of course it was all for the same position," said Cavendish. "I lost the wheel from Gerald Ciolek, but with 1200 metres to go he picked me up again. Gerald started his sprint with 600 to go, which is a long distance as the finish was uphill and into a headwind.
"With 250 metres to go [Thor] Hushovd went off with [Mark] Renshaw. It was a bit further out than I wanted, but when they went there wasn't much of an option. Luckily my form was good enough to hold it to the line."