Tour de France - Cavendish takes Tour tally to four
Sun, 17 Jul 16:28:00 2011
The HTC-Highroad sprinter once again proved to be the fastest man in the peloton after another emphatic win in a windy stage 15 from Limoux.
Cavendish's 19th career win in the Tour followed a familiar pattern, with his HTC team reeling in the day's break before Australian Mark Renshaw took over the reins to propel the Manx Missile to the finish.
"The guys ride for me because they have confidence in me. They were incredible again today," said Cavendish, who cemented his lead in the green jersey competition over Spain's Jose Rojas (Movistar) who he now leads by 37 points.
France's Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) retains his overall lead going into the race's second rest day on Monday. The surprise yellow jersey leads Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) by 1:49 and Cadel Evans (BMC) by 2:06, while reigning champion Alberto Contador lies back in seventh place, exactly four minutes down.
After three gruelling days in the Pyrenees, the remaining 170 riders left Limoux under dark thunderclouds for their final test before a well-earned break ahead of the final week of the race.
Five riders - Frenchmen Mickael Delage (FDJ), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun), Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) and Russian Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) - broke clear early on, building up a lead of three and a half minutes over the only climb of the day, the fourth-category ascent to Villespassans.
With an intermediate sprint 48km from the finish of the 192.5km stage, HTC took control over the peloton from Europcar as they tried to cut the deficit. But the leaders managed to hold on over the intermediate sprint, leaving Cavendish to battle it out for sixth place - which he did, ahead of green jersey rivals Rojas and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Once the lead of the five-man break dropped to under a minute, Ignatiev made a move, with Teprstra the only other escapee able to hold his wheel. But with just 45 seconds to play with and still 20km left to ride, it was always a question of when they would be caught - and not if.
Ignatiev was the first to throw in the towel, the Russian being swept up and spat out by the bunch with 5km to go. The rangy Terpstra held on for another two kilometres but his time out in front came to an end after Gilbert put in a trademark dig from distance as the road hit a slight rise.
Gilbert was joined by Vacansoleil's Thomas de Gendt and FDJ's Anthony Roux, but the chasing pack proved too strong for trio 2km from the finish.
Cavendish stuck to his lead-out man Renshaw's wheel as his rivals jostled for positions. When the time was right, inside the final 200m, the Manxman jumped out of the saddle and rode to a comfortable victory - but not before being on the receiving end of some over-attentive attention by stage six winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), who appeared to lean heavily into Cavendish on two successive occasions.
"It's very much a team effort, it's not just me," said Renshaw when quizzed about his role in Cavendish's fourth win on the Tour. "Without Lars Bak and Danny Pate there wouldn't be a bunch sprint at all."
American Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) took second place and Italy's Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) pipped compatriot Daniel Oss (Liquigas) for third place. Spaniard Rojas took fifth place and loses more ground in the race for the green jersey, while Britain's Ben Swift finished a solid sixth for Team Sky.
The Tour resumes on Tuesday with the 162.5km stage 16 from Saint-Paul-Trois Chateau to Gap.
Stage 15 finish