The Omega Pharma-Quick Step sprinter avoided two big crashes in the closing moments of the stage to power home for his first victory on the 2013 Tour ahead of Norway's Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Sky), Slovakia's Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Germany's Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
Australia's Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) finished safely in the peloton at the end of the 228.5km stage through Provence to retain his yellow jersey as race leader.
Cavendish benefited from a superb lead-out by Belgian powerhouse Gert Steegmans before taking a comprehensive win ahead of former team-mate Boasson Hagen and the green jersey, Sagan.
“I’m super happy to get the win and hopefully it will get the ball rolling for more,” said Cavendish, who missed out on victory on the opening day because of a large pile-up towards the finish in Bastia.
“It’s been a little bit frustrating but usually I don’t win until the fifth stage anyway so it was not too serious,” he added.
Victory also put Cavendish into second place in the battle for the green jersey where he sits with 76 points alongside Norway's Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), who finished sixth in the stage behind Italy's Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida). Sagan leads the competition with 111 points after a string of high finishes.
To get the win, Cavendish’s Belgian team had to ride hard over a series of climbs to reel in the remnants of a break that formed moments after the start of the stage in Cagnes-sur-Mer.
“My team protected me on the climbs and then [Sylvain] Chavanel, Tony [Martin] and Peter Velits helped chase down the break,” said Cavendish, whose Tour has been hampered with bronchitis.
Keeping near the front, Cavendish avoided a large pile-up that happened on the Col de la Gineste 15km from the finish. As he roared to the finish line, the 28-year-old would also have been oblivious to a huge accident on the closing straight that held up half the peloton.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere said his team had targeted victory in Marseille for a long time – and that his star sprinter was bent on turning things round after being denied a chance to take the yellow jersey on the opening day of the race in Corsica.
“We put a marker on this stage before the race and Mark was particularly motivated to make up for what happened on stage one,” he said.
The number of riders was down to 195 at the start of the stage following the controversial disqualification of Cannondale’s Ted King. The 30-year-old American, making his debut in the Tour but carrying a bad shoulder injury sustained in the opening stage, finished the team time trial seven seconds outside the cut-off point – and despite protests from his team and co-riders, the race officials were feeling no mercy.
An attack came from the outset of the stage with Team Europcar making amends from their poor team time trial by throwing two riders – Japanese national champion Yukiya Arashiro and French debutant Kevin Reza – in the break, alongside Belgian all-rounder Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), himself keen to get his Tour back on track following a tricky start marred by illness.
Also joining the six-man break were two former U23 world champions Romain Sicard (Euskaltel) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), and Anthony Delaplace of Sojasun. Over the rolling hills of Provence on the Tour’s second longest stage, the escapees built up a maximum lead of almost thirteen minutes under cloudy skies and in humid conditions, making Arashiro the virtual yellow jersey.
De Gendt, who dropped to almost 25 minutes down on GC after struggling in the hills of Corsica earlier in the race, used the stage as a platform for his new race targets, namely the king of the mountains competition. Winner atop the unforgiving Alpine climb of the Stelvio during the 2012 Giro d’Italia, De Gendt lowered his range somewhat to conquer the first lower-category climbs in pole position to open up his account in the battle for the polka dot jersey.
Back with the peloton, Orica-GreenEdge kept their men on the front and controlled the pace with the help of Lotto Belisol and Argos Shimano.
At the intermediate sprint 120km from the finish, Greipel showed once again his form by beating Kristoff, Sagan and Cavendish to take maximum remaining points.
Arashiro, protecting the polka dot jersey of Europcar team-mate Pierre Rolland, took the solitary point atop the third climb of the day 75km from the finish.
Entering the final 50km of the stage, the leaders still held an advantage of six minutes over the peloton, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step finally coming to the front to help out the other sprinters’ teams with the chase.
Sicard and Delaplace were dropped from the leading group after an acceleration by De Gendt and the four leaders crossed the summit of the final categorised climb with 2:30 on the chasing pack and 25km left to ride.
Europcar's Rolland, stage one winner Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano) and Garmin-Sharp’s Christian Vande Velde were amongst a dozen riders who went down hard on the uncategorised Col de la Ginestre when the chase was in full swing. All the riders were able to carry on, but the fall ended Kittel's chances of doubling his stage tally.
De Gendt and Arashiro were the first escapees to be reeled before both Reza and Lutsenko were finally called to heel as the pack entered Marseille with 4km remaining.
After a tricky opening to the 100th edition of the Tour, the scene was finally set for OPQS and Mark Cavendish to show what they do best - and the Manxman duly delivered, with a little help from his friends.
Cavendish will have a chance to double his tally on Thursday’s flat 176.5km stage six from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, which is likely to finish with another bunch gallop.
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- Peter Sagan
- Andre Greipel
- Boasson Hagen