The riders at HTC-Columbia often say that each victory they take belongs to the team and no better was this demonstrated than on Thursday's stage to Montargis. After the disappointment of Wednesday's sprint into Reims, Mark Cavendish took advantage of the perfect work done by his teammates to open his stage win account in this year's Tour.
The Manxman's celebrations said it all as he crossed the line after four and a half hours of racing: arms raised high, full of relief, sweet celebration and redemption. More than usual, Cavendish savoured the embraces of HTC-Columbia staff and Erik Zabel, the six-time green jersey winner and his close advisor. And Cav hugged them all before walking back to the finish with a proud swagger that said: 'I'm back'.
Despite the best efforts of rival teams to derail the HTC-Columbia train in the final kilometres in the Montargis suburbs, the likes of Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Petacchi, Tyler Farrar, Gerald Ciolek and Robbie McEwen couldn't get the better of Renshaw and Cavendish when it counted.
Renshaw elbowed Thor Hushovd out of the way and then dragged Cavendish clear as the finish line loomed. Cavendish did not hesitate as the sprint began and surged clear. This time, he had the power and speed to win. Germany's Gerald Ciolek (Milram) jumped at the same time as Cavendish but was beaten for speed and finished second. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) came from behind Cavendish to take third.
Tears on the podium, reminiscent of his win at last year's Milan-San Remo, were a sure sign of Cavendish hitting the release valve on a pressure cooker that had been building up inside him and HTC-Columbia for months. During the Tour's opening week, a number of factors - crashes, cobbles and circumstances, had conspired against the 24-year-old. But suddenly, all that was forgotten with a convincing return to victory.
"It means everything to win," Cavendish said. "It's incredibly emotional. All the pressure and emotion built up but it's finally over."
"It was hard this year. I always said everything was about the Tour de France. Thing didn't go our way yesterday. I let them down massively and it would have been easy for them to say 'He hasn't got it' like other people did. But they rode for me. Siutsou rode covered in bandages and Rogers was there at the finish and took it on too. Renshaw did an incredible job, fighting with Thor [Hushovd], with Tyler [Farrar] and with Oscar [Freire]. I knew he'd drop me off at the right place."
Thanks to his fifth place, Thor Hushovd maintained his lead in the points classification, while Fabian Cancellara will enjoy another day in the maillot jaune as Jerôme Pineau carries on in the polka dot jersey when the race heads to Gueugnon tomorrow. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) kept the best young rider's white jersey, giving Britain an historic day, with two riders on the podium.
Cavendish is also back in the hunt for the points classification crown, lighting up the battle for the maillot vert when others had written him off. Hushovd is still in green with a total of 102 points but Cavendish has 50 points. And it's always a mistake to write off men of his calibre, as Hushovd knows.
"He's one of the best sprinters in the world. I'm happy with today's stage. I was able to get some more points in the hunt for the maillot vert," Hushovd said. "I was in good position for the final sprint. I used a lot of energy to get on the wheel of Renshaw, and Cavendish was able to win. It's always better to win the stage. I am not racing just for points, I want to win the stages too."
Play it again, Sam
Another sunny day, another favourable parcour, meant the conditions were ripe for another bunch sprint. But this time HTC-Columbia was hoping that Cavendish would finish the job done by Konstantin Siutsou, Maxime Monfort, Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch, Michael Rogers, Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw, who all played such an important role in getting him to the final 200 metres the day before.
But before the finish could be contested - another break was allowed to steal the early glory. The escape group was again let go nice and early. Caisse d'Epargne's José Ivan Gutierrez kicked off proceedings, attacking hard and taking off after six kilometres. With Jurgen van de Walle (Quick Step) and Julian El Fares (Cofidis) in tow, the Spaniard set about accumulating a significant gap which became a minute after seven kilometres of riding off the front.
With 28km of the stage passed, the break gained its maximum advantage of 7:55 as the peloton continued to lick its wounds after that bruising stage three encounter with the cobbles of northern France. However the next 20km saw that gap hover around six minutes until it began to fall with just over 100km left to race. The sprinters were not going to let the break gain too much time.
The likes of Grabsch, Siutsou and Monfort were again pivotal in whittling the break's advantage; when it was down to a manageable 2:27 with 65km remaining, Lampre-Farnese Vini decided to get involved, with Slovenian rider Grega Bole again proving his worth to the Italian team's cause, towing the bunch in pursuit of the leading trio.
As the time board showed the peloton was 1:47 from the break with 40km to go, Cervélo TestTeam also began to get involved in the task of pulling back the Belgian-Franco-Iberian alliance that had worked well to maintain its position off the front of the bunch.
But like yesterday's romp into Reims, it all became mathematical in the finale as the break was again caught late in the stage; with 10km remaining it was time for Tony Martin to kick things back into action for HTC-Columbia, the erstwhile leader of the best young rider classification dragging the main bunch to within sight of the escape group.
Time's up, José
With six kilometres remaining, Gutierrez decided it was time to split from his breakaway companions, who were caught shortly after, while the Spaniard continued to hold out against the inevitable. Whilst a spirited effort, the Spanish national road race champion's attempt to stay away ended two kilometres later as the peloton had four clicks to go before the expected bunch kick. The question on everyone's lips was: Could Cav make a comeback to the winners' circle or would he fail again and the pressure grow even more?
Gutierrez's demise was the cue for Lampre-Farnese Vini and Garmin-Slipstream to come to the front, Martijn Maaskant going head to head with Danilo Hondo for position in the midst of the HTC-Columbia train in an attempt to steal its momentum, the result being Bernhard Eisel's isolation at the head of affairs.
David Millar, Robbie Hunter and Julian Dean then organised themselves brilliantly for Farrar. Behind them sat Hushovd, Renshaw and Cavendish, with all eyes on the latter two. Waiting in the wings for any mistakes and for a gap to dive through, was yesterday's winner Petacchi, plus Gerald Ciolek and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Unlike yesterday however, when Mark Renshaw swung off with 200 metres to go Cavendish kicked... and kicked hard. The HTC-Columbia sprinter was back to his best, finding victory vindication during a week that has tested the character of the rider who had so dominated the sprints during last year's Tour de France.
The question now becomes: will he have enough of that same character and speed to continue winning and eventually take the green jersey at race's end in Paris? Stay tuned for that intriguing plotline of what has already been a fascinating Tour de France after just six days of racing.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia||4:30:50|
|2||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Mark Renshaw (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Lance Armstrong (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) Astana||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - Transitions||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team Radioshack||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Serge Pauwels (Bel) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team Milram||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Michael Barry (Can) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Milram||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Tony Martin (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Team Milram||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|78||Damien Monier (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|83||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Roger Kluge (Ger) Team Milram||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||Alexandr Pliuschin (Mda) Team Katusha||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|89||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|92||Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Milram||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 92 - Cell 2|
|94||Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 93 - Cell 2|
|95||Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test Team||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|96||Sergio Paulinho (Por) Team Radioshack||Row 95 - Cell 2|
|97||Iban Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|98||Arkaitz Duran Daroca (Spa) Footon-Servetto||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française des Jeux||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|100||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|101||Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|102||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 101 - Cell 2|
|103||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|104||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 103 - Cell 2|
|105||Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 104 - Cell 2|
|106||Koos Moerenhout (Ned) Rabobank||Row 105 - Cell 2|
|107||John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 106 - Cell 2|
|108||Rémy Di Grégorio (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 107 - Cell 2|
|109||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 108 - Cell 2|
|110||Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 109 - Cell 2|
|111||Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon-Servetto||Row 110 - Cell 2|
|112||Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 111 - Cell 2|
|113||Kristjan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 112 - Cell 2|
|114||Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 113 - Cell 2|
|115||Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 114 - Cell 2|
|116||Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 115 - Cell 2|
|117||Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 116 - Cell 2|
|118||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 117 - Cell 2|
|119||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 118 - Cell 2|
|120||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 119 - Cell 2|
|121||Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 120 - Cell 2|
|122||Jose Alberto Benitez Roman (Spa) Footon-Servetto||Row 121 - Cell 2|
|123||Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Footon-Servetto||Row 122 - Cell 2|
|124||Pavel Brutt (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 123 - Cell 2|
|125||Christophe Kern (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 124 - Cell 2|
|126||Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa) Footon-Servetto||Row 125 - Cell 2|
|127||Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 126 - Cell 2|
|128||Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana||Row 127 - Cell 2|
|129||Alexander Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 128 - Cell 2|
|130||Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team||Row 129 - Cell 2|
|131||Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 130 - Cell 2|
|132||Amaël Moinard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 131 - Cell 2|
|133||Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 132 - Cell 2|
|134||Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 133 - Cell 2|
|135||Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 134 - Cell 2|
|136||Karsten Kroon (Ned) BMC Racing Team||Row 135 - Cell 2|
|137||Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team||Row 136 - Cell 2|
|138||Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing Team||Row 137 - Cell 2|
|139||Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 138 - Cell 2|
|140||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step||Row 139 - Cell 2|
|141||Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 140 - Cell 2|
|142||Francesco Bellotti (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 141 - Cell 2|
|143||Robert Hunter (RSA) Garmin - Transitions|