For the second year in a row, the sprint festival on the Champs Élysées has been won by Mark Cavendish, the Manxman outsprinting Alessandro Petacchi by five bike lengths on the most famous piece of pavement in the world.
"Every sprint in the Tour you've got to try and save as much energy as possible. On the Champs Élysées you can't save energy. You just go balls out to the line and that's what I did today," Cavendish said. "Once I was on Petacchi's wheel I knew I could win the stage. We came at the last corner and I just jumped. This is the most beautiful finish in the world. It's been a road full of emotions but if you win here you forget about all the disappointments," Cavendish said.
The 25-year-old from the Isle of Man is the indisputable - though still uncrowned - king of the sprints in the Tour de France. Despite his fifth stage win Cavendish missed out on the overall victory in the sprint competition. His 232 points were not enough to keep Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) from holding on to an eleven-point margin in the points classification.
Still, in only three years Cavendish has cannonballed himself into the history books. Sunday's win in Paris puts him level with the fifteen victories of Freddy Maertens, the legendary Belgian sprinter who also achieved this impressive tally in only three years. The major contrast with the sprinters of the past is that Cavendish fails to convert his domination in the sprint into an overall win in the points classification. Cavendish's mentor Erik Zabel, for example, won 'only' twelve stages but the German carried the green jersey to Paris on six occasions.
The combination of a bad first week and his decision not to battle for the points at the intermediate sprints brought him defeat in this year's battle for the points, Cavendish explained. "I'm disappointed not to win the green jersey. It was my target for this year but I've had some bad luck during the first days and that ruined my run for the green jersey. Then again, we won five stages and should be happy with this year's Tour."
Though failing to sport the green jersey on the podium in Paris the 25-year-old wasn't planning to change tactics. "My job is to win, and also mentally I want to win. If that's how I win the green jersey then that's how I win it. I'm not going to change my tactics. You might as well ask me how I'm going to change my tactics to win the mountains jersey. I've just got to try to win it. If it comes, then it comes. I'm a different type of rider to Thor Hushovd. That's my style to win the green jersey, by winning stages," an annoyed Cavendish replied when asked whether he thought about changing his tactics to win the green jersey.
His annoyance might have been caused by the question posed just before that, when Cavendish was reminded of a comment made by a French commentator who said that he cheated by holding on to team cars in the mountain stages. "It's absolutely not true," Cavendish said when asked whether he had actually pulled off a trick like that in the mountains.
There are still some major objectives to come for Cavendish this year and he isn't planning to stroll around until the end of the season. The sprinter aims to shine at the Tour of Spain and even more so at the World Championships in Melbourne.
"After this I'm not riding the criteriums," Cavendish said. The post-Tour criteriums are a financially interesting, but form-wise unhealthy series of races organized throughout Europe right after the Tour. The races around the local church often attract thousands of people who want to see the Tour de France heroes in real-life. "I'm taking a week's break. I'm going to do the Vuelta and then I'm going to Melbourne. It's a simple as that."