For most people, 13 is an unlucky number. Fabian Cancellara famously wears the dossard bearing that numeral upside down to avoid its potential misfortune. This afternoon in Bourg-lès-Valence however, it was a lucky number for Mark Cavendish as he took his 13th win and went into the history books - he has now won the most Tour de France stages of any current sprinter. The stage was overshadowed when Cavendish's teammate, Mark Renshaw, was thrown out of the race for head-butting Julian Dean (Garmin-Transitions)
However, by winning Cavendish has beaten the record held by his mentor, Erik Zabel, who previously held the record whilst a professional, with 12 stage wins in la grande boucle. Cavendish did it in the style to which we've become accustomed, the HTC-Columbia sprinter continuing to gain confidence in this year's race after a shaky start.
He had to go from a long way out to earn the victory though, courtesy of a coming together between Antipodean duo Mark Renshaw and Julian Dean in the final 500 metres. In a sign of his increasing sprinting maturity, Cavendish saw the opportunity to dash for double the distance he normally would - almost 400 metres - and backed himself to get the job done.
"Julian came and he was fighting with Mark at the finish and it left me boxed in - if he'd have pushed him across, as soon as I saw a gap I had to go," said Cavendish after the finish.
"Normally I go with 200 or 250 [metres] maximum and at 375 metres to go I saw a gap... it wasn't so much a sprint but a little breakaway, well, by my standards anyway! It was hard, actually... It was a really, really long way to the finish - I thought somebody would be on my wheel and come around, but they didn't," he explained.
And while both Dean and Renshaw are laid back guys off the bike, they gnashed their teeth with some mutual head butting preventing the pair heading too close to the barriers as the New Zealander came towards his Australian counterpart with Cavendish on the wheel.
"I don't know whether Tyler [Farrar] was with Julian, maybe he thought Tyler was with him... otherwise he was just trying to put Mark off," continued Cavendish, who had a back seat view of the incident before jetting off for the stage win. "Like I said, if Julian was [coming across intentionally] it shut the door and I could't go - maybe that's what he was doing: trying to shut the door for me."
After another day of toil from Bob Stapleton's men that reaped the ultimate reward - another stage win - Cavendish paid tribute to the riders who displayed an amazing amount of calmness under fire this afternoon and helped him to his record-breaking victory. "We can just see how good Mark is - he's fighting [for me] and he's an incredible guy, a great guy and I'm so lucky to have him and all the guys, actually," he said.
Yet Cavendish will be without his brother-in-arms for the remainder of the race. The judges saw the incident with Dean quite differently, and disqualified Renshaw from the race for head-butting Dean in the sprint. This leaves HTC-Columbia lacking an important weapon in the battle for the green jersey.
While there were no changes to the overall standings, the complexion of the points classification changed significantly, with Alessandro Petacchi reclaiming the maillot vert and Cavendish now trailing the Italian by a mere 29 points. Thor Hushovd drops to second in the battle for green. Surely this is a sub plot of this year's Tour that will be altered all the way to the final day in Paris.
Like a bird on the wire...
After yesterday's unofficial rest day the peloton would be looking to take a little more respite from this transitional stage that shuffled riders along from Sisteron to Bourg-lès-Valence over 184.5km. Therefore the plan was simple: give the break an early start, leave it enough rope (so to speak) and shoot it down when the time was right.
Knowing that this would likely be the plan, Anthony Geslin (Française des Jeux), Stephane Augé (Cofidis) and Jose-Alberto Benitez (Footon-Servetto) attacked from the first kilometre of racing and established a lead of 4:15 after 40km. Unlike yesterday's stage however, there was no real chance it would survive to the finish but the leading trio was happy with the status quo, it seemed.
Keen to make what he could of the day's only categorised climb, mountains classification leader Jérôme Pineau added a single point to his lead in the standings, taking the last available point on offer with the break 3:16 ahead and ensuring he's be on the podium at day's end with a polka dot jersey on his back.
Having survived the Alpine onslaught of the past five days, HTC-Columbia's usual express service was resumed on the journey into the Drôme department of the Rhône-Alpes region and despite the break's advantage rarely dropping below two minutes for much of the stage it never reached any great heights.
The escape enjoyed a gap that hovered between two and three minutes thanks largely to the work done by the aforementioned workhorses of HTC-Columbia and the planning from their team car.
With 84km to go and the riders heading through Die the gap had been reduced to 1:32, although that shot back up to two minutes eight kilometres later when it was realised the break would be caught too soon at this rate.
David Zabriskie could be seen supplementing HTC-Columbia's work in the second half of the stage; it was all hands on deck for Jonathan Vaughters' team as Garmin-Transitions and Tyler Farrar had lost another ally before the start in Sisteron, with Robbie Hunter withdrawing due to injuries suffered in a crash yesterday.
Managing the minute margin
To avoid potential counter attacks and a disrupted lead in to Valence, Garmin-Transitions, HTC-Columbia and Lampre-Farnese Vini were maintaining the break's advantage to a manageable minute as the leaders had 45km left to race. Five kilometres later an attempted counter attack, in sight of the leading trio, forced the break's advantage below a minute and put the sprinters' teams on notice that they may not have everything their own way in the final part of the stage.
The final 30 kilometres were punctuated by a significant headwind, the perfect ground for a former time trial world champion to pull along the peloton, and that's exactly what Bert Grabsch did for his British sprinting star behind. Meanwhile, ahead of them attacks were beginning amongst the leading trio as Augé tried his luck, although Benitez and Geslin were having nothing of it, the former launching his own sortie with the main field breathing down the escapees' necks.
It only served to delay the inevitable and shortly after the main field passed the 25km-to-go banner it was lights out for Augé and Benitez with Geslin conceding defeat, his job of playing promo guy done for the day. It wasn't the earliest catch of any sprint stage at this year's Tour, giving the opportunists ample time to disrupt the best laid plans of those who were hoping to lead out their sprinter in the fast finale.
Fierce crosswinds on the final 17km meant that Saxo Bank got to the front of the field quickly to protect Andy Schleck as RadioShack did likewise for its man Levi Leipheimer. The protective custody for some of the leading general classification riders worked in favour of the sprinters' teams as it kept affairs together to avoid any dangerous moves from those who had their hearts set on glory.
Flying into Bourg-lès-Valence, the strung out peloton was still led by Saxo Bank with 10km remaining, the likes of Cancellara, Fuglsang and Voigt doing what was required to keep their man safe; four kiometres later, their jobs completed, they handed over the reins of the peloton to HTC-Columbia, whose time it was to take over and begin the lead out for Cavendish.
Again the spoiling tactics employed by Lampre-Farnese Vini during the Tour's opening week sprints were used by the Italian squad, putting men in front of the American team shortly before the five-to-go banner. Petacchi's men, plus Team Sky and Garmin-Transitions were all were hoping to disrupt the 'Yellow Train' but to his credit, engine driver Bernhard Eisel maintained the momentum of his charges with a massive tailwind not assisting their cause because the high speeds involved kept the contenders in with a chance.
When it counted, like so many times in recent history however, HTC-Columbia held its nerve and delivered Cavendish to the line thanks to Eisel and Renshaw in the final kilometres. Winding their way through the best passages that emerged at the head of proceedings - through the middle, to the left, to the right... wherever a gap appeared, the men in yellow and white seemed to be there to get the job done.
All that was required to finish the tale was a long sprint from the Manxman, and he turned on the gas for almost 400 metres - his most confident and accomplished performance of this year's Tour - to easily see off any challenge from Petacchi, Farrar and José Rojas, who finished second, third and fourth respectively.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia||4:42:29|
|2||Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Milram||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - Transitions||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Milram||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Alexandr Pliuschin (Mda) Team Katusha||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) Astana||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team Milram||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Michael Barry (Can) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française des Jeux||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Damien Monier (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Maarten Wijnants (Bel) Quick Step||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|78||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo Bank||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|83||Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Steven Cummings (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Team Milram||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|89||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||Koos Moerenhout (Ned) Rabobank||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|92||Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test Team||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 92 - Cell 2|