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Galloping head down with his trademark aerodynamic style, Mark Cavendish continued his domination of...
Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia)
Galloping head down with his trademark aerodynamic style, Mark Cavendish continued his domination of the Tour de France sprints when he thundered to his fourth stage win of this year's race. The Columbia rider was momentarily blocked inside the final 700 metres of the stage but then got a clear run to the line in Nîmes, beating Robbie McEwen (Silence Lotto), Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) in the mass bunch gallop.
It is the second successive stage win for the Isle of Man competitor, and doubles the previous British record of two stage wins in a single Tour, as set by Barry Hoban in 1969 and again in 1973.
"I heard over the radio that there was a lot of wind [near the finish]," said Cavendish immediately after embracing his team-mates and then visiting the podium. "I wasn't well placed with 700 metres to go and had a hard time accelerating."
However his fourth win worked out in dominating fashion, with the victory seeing him move up to second overall in the battle for the green jersey. His velodrome experience has helped thus far, and he'll hope that strong kick will carry him to more success. "Track riding when I was younger definitely helped to develop my speed," he said. "I can hold my speed."
Asked whether he does any special training for the bunch sprints, Cavendish replied: "I just ride my bike. I enjoy it. I sometimes do a bit of sprint training. But I have a really great team that pulls very hard for me in the final kilometres."
Second-placed McEwen was not too disappointed with the outcome, having had his chance for a head-to-head sprint against Cavendish. "I went on the right and he went on the left, and he was just too strong," said McEwen. "I tried to stay on his wheel, but he was just four or five kilometres faster - it was not possible today."
Still, the Australian believes he has the legs for a stage victory at this Tour, and hopes to face Cavendish again on the Champs-Élysées in just over a week's time. "I hope that he does not go home before Paris because I want to win over him," McEwen added.
Race leader Cadel Evans benefited from good work by his Silence-Lotto squad, with team-mates keeping him near the front and out of trouble during the stage. He and all of his rivals finished in the same time as Cavendish, ensuring that the general classification remains unchanged. "It was very hot and in the end it was pretty dangerous, with all the roundabouts," he said after the stage. "The team was great again."
The Australian continues to hold a slender one-second lead over Fränk Schleck. He's a little worried about what might happen in the high mountains, given the numerical strength of his rivals. "CSC has the numbers. Schleck is very close. Sastre gets better in the third week. Tomorrow, the Alps start 'a little bit'. We will see."
Evans said before the stage that he's finding the volume of media requests to be intense, and the general demands of the maillot jaune mean that he doesn't get to communicate with his parents and family each day. "It's sometimes maybe only every other day," he said, showing how busy his life has become since he took over the race lead. "But they send SMS [messages] right after the stage, asking how I feel. There are many Australians following the Tour."
As was the case yesterday, the stage was marked by a long-distance breakaway by two riders. Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Florent Brard (Cofidis) attacked in the first kilometre and had opened up a maximum gap of 9'55 after some 21 kilometres of racing.
Brard led Terpstra over the day's first climb, Côte de la Resclauze, and did likewise over the other two, the Côte de Puechabon and the Pic Saint-Loup. Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) accelerated out of the peloton and picked up the remaining point on the first and third ascents, while his team-mate – and closest challenger – Bernhard Kohl nabbed third on the Côte de Puechabon. The net result was that Lang added a point to his overall total, ending the day three points clear of Kohl in the King of the Mountains ranking.
Terpstra nabbed both bonus sprints near the end of the stage, attacking just before the final one and soloing ahead. Brard was joined by team-mate Stephane Auge after the prime line but the duo could not get back up to the Milram rider. The leader was himself caught just before the ten kilometre to go sign, with a short lived move by Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom) being followed by a better effort by Sylvain Chavanel.
The Cofidis rider pulled out an advantage of several seconds, riding strongly. However he was overhauled with three clicks remaining and this paved the way for the bunch gallop and yet another decisive Cavendish victory. The Cannonball is fast becoming the Cannibal in the sprints.
158 riders took the start in Narbonne on a sunny day in southern France. Some riders undoubtedly would have preferred to put in a few rest days near the Mediterranean, but the schedule dictated the riders to set off at 13:00 precisely towards Nîmes.
Niki Terpstra (Team Milram) and Florent Brard (Cofidis) couldn't wait for the action to start and took off inside the first kilometre. The bunch let the two go and after only four kilometres they were clear by a minute. The gap kept extending until km 21, when it was 9'55.
Finally, the peloton reacted and the gap started to come down, albeit gradually. After 35 kilometres the gap was 8'45.
At kilometre 62, the leaders hit the Côte de la Resclauze, a category four climb, seven minutes ahead of the bunch. Brard rolled over the top ahead of Terpstra. Lang stormed ahead in third, increasing his lead over team-mate Kohl to three points.
No worries this time in the feed zone. The peloton got better as the race went on. The gap had dropped to 6'35, though.
Over the top of the Côte de Puéchabon, Brard was gesturing for Terpstra, who had done less of the pulling, to come through. But the Dutchman wasn't used to the heat so much and was visibly suffering, 76 kilometres from the finish. So Brard passed the top ahead of Terpstra. The bunch followed four minutes later. The Gerolsteiners were ahead again. This time, Kohl was allowed to take the points, ahead of Lang, who was still wearing the polka dot jersey.
Pic-Saint-Loups was the next climb. Terpstra had a bit of trouble again holding Brard's wheel, but he managed to hang on. He got sprayed by a spectator and wasn't happy about it understandably, as being surprised by cold water on a hot day is not great.
The peloton followed two and a half minutes later. Lang and Kohl were playing around at the front and smiling. Lang got the points, which left them still close together in the overall standings.
Terpstra definitely tried hard and Brard let him take the sprints points in Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel. In the peloton, Flecha escaped to take the third spot, 1'16 behind the leaders. Flecha's job was really to take away the points from Freire's green jersey competitors. With still more than 40 kilometres to go, Flecha sat up right after the line.
The next sprint was located at Villevieille, 26 kilometres from the finish. Just before it, Terpstra attacked, getting the six points and distancing Brard, who had worked harder in the break. From the peloton, Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) went after Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), who was again out to spoil the sprint points for Hushovd et al. Augé then dropped Flecha before the sprint and with 25 kilometres to go caught up with his team-mate Brard.
Terpstra augmented his lead over the two chasers to 35 seconds in a couple of kilometres. The bunch was 1'24 behind.
With 20 kilometres to go Terpstra was up by one minute, with the bunch 1'42 behind. But Terpstra started to have cramps. He was caught with 10 kilometres to go.
Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom) did the next counter, but was quickly brought back. Sven Krauss had a spectacular crash when he hit a small sign in the middle of the road that was supposed to warn car drivers about a divider. Krauss saw it too late, somersaulted through the air, damaged the sign and broke his bike in half. However, he was up fast, albeit in pain.
Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) countered and pedaled ahead of the bunch. With five to go he had about a dozen seconds. Milram was pulling hard to bring the Frenchman back. But Chavanel was caught with three kilometres to go.
Liquigas pitched in to the work as well. Nobody was able to attack and the bunch sprint proved once again that Mark Cavendish (Columbia) is virtually unbeatable for the moment.
Despite not being a mountainous stage and only featuring two fourth category climbs at the end of stage 14, the Tour will arrive in the Alps. Although those two climbs are the only ones to count, the altitude rises steadily from 46 metres at the start in Nîmes to 599 metres at the finish in Digne les Bains. The route crosses Provence and the Luberon wine area between Mont Ventoux and the Côte d'Azur before finishing in the spa town in the shadow of the high mountains that divide France from its neighbour Italy.
Digne les Bains is a fairly regular host to the Tour, having been a stage town eleven times before. Last time in 2005 David Moncoutié took the second of his two career stage wins after attacking the break on the road from Briançon to the north.