Thor Hushovd (Cervélo Test Team) broke Mark Cavendish’s stranglehold on the bunch sprints, winning on the uphill drag into Barcelona ahead of another rider who specializes in these tougher finishes, Oscar Freire (Rabobank).
With victory the Norwegian also closed the gap in the green jersey competition to just one point, with Cavendish holding on, just. It was a stage that his Cervélo team had identified as suiting their sprinter before the Tour even started, as Hushovd revealed after the stage.
"I have never been here, but our sports director Alex Sans Vega is from Barcelona, and he came up here in the car with a camera before the Tour started. We looked at the footage this morning. That gave me a little idea of the road towards the finish. Apart from that, I won a stage at the bottom of the climb in the Tour of Catalunya."
"Yesterday, I was a bit frustrated because our plan for the sprint didn't work out," continued Hushovd, who, like the other sprinters, had been thwarted on Wednesday by Thomas Voeckler’s stage-winning attack.
"We didn't sprint for the win [on Wednesday], and of course I want to be up there for the green jersey. So we didn't have a good day yesterday. But I still know that we have really good guys here and when everything works, we probably have one of the best lead-out trains in the world. We had more luck today."
While Cavendish continues to insist that he will not contest intermediate sprints, with his sole aim being to finish in Paris rather than to win the green jersey, Hushovd suggested that his main rival might not stick to his word.
"I think that if we are all together and there is a sprint up the road, then he will go for it," he said. "Anyway, with the mountains are coming. In the first week, [Carlos] Sastre [the Cervélo leader and defending champion] gave me the chance to do what I wanted, so now I will try to support him as well as I can. Of course, the green jersey is really important, but we also have to help Sastre as much as we can."
Hushovd said that he expected the fight for the green jersey to go all the way to Paris, with Cavendish having "changed as a rider. He is now much better in the mountains. Today we went really fast in the beginning of the race, and he didn't get dropped.
"It's good to win," added Hushovd. "This victory is important to the team, as it shows we [deserve to be at the Tour despite] being a continental pro team. It’s also important to me because I show the team that they're right to give me so many guys – and that's also why I want to give something back for Carlos, to help him as much as I can. Of course, I cannot pull [on] the last climb for him, but I will be able to give him a hand before."
While Hushovd admitted he was "really motivated" to try and win on a stage that he knew suited him, the Cervélo Test Team’s manager, Thomas Campana, said that it also opened up the competition for green. "We talked from the beginning [of the Tour] about Barcelona," said Campani. "It’s clear that when the road goes uphill it’s very difficult for anyone to go around Thor Hushovd.
"It’s an important win for us, and for Carlos, going into the mountains; it’s important for the group," continued Campana. "Now everything is possible. There are plenty of stages coming where I expect [Hushovd] to be up the front and to score more points now. It will be an open game [for green] now."