At the start of the 11th stage, it was almost unanimous: a sprint finish loomed. That’s was the forecast and that’s what transpired. Yes, there was an attack. Yes, it went early. No, it never gained enough time to even look like succeeding. And yes, HTC-Columbia controlled the sprint with panache – and a few headbutts – before Mark Cavendish bolted into the lead and onward to his third win in this year’s Tour, and the 13th of his career. It was a rudimentary sprint stage even if Mark Renshaw decided he needed to account for the fast finish of Garmin-Transition’s Julian Dean by using his head rather than legs. Nothing can be taken away from ‘Cav’, however, as he again demonstrated that he’s the king of sprinting in modern cycling.
The Progress Report
The 184.5km stage from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence began at 12.55pm with 179 riders at the start. The overnight retirees were Charlie Wegelius (OLO) and Robbie Hunter (GRM). On the menu for this ‘flat’ stage were two intermediate sprints – the first in Montlaur-en-Diois (at 83.5km), the second in Mirabel-et-Blacons (130km). There is just one climb, the category-three col de Cabre (at 56.5km).
First Attack Sticks…
As soon as the flag fell to signal the start of racing, Stephane Auge (COF) shot out of the peloton and onward to establish The Escape of the stage, he was joined in the lead by Jose Benitez (FOT) and compatriot Anthony Geslin (FDJ). By 2km they already had a lead of 1’40”. The average speed for the first hour was 37.1km/h. The maximum gain in the first two hours was 5’05” (at 47km). HTC-Columbia and Lampre shared the pace setting duties at the head of the peloton. Benitez led Auge and Geslin over the top of the col de Cabre… while, behind, Cunego (LAM), Barredo (QST), Pineau (QST) and Charteau (BTL) attacked the peloton in the hunt for the one point for fourth at the top. Pineau won the sprint 1’47” behind the escapees. The peloton was 2’00” behind at the 56.5km mark.
Accepting A Bunch Finish…
The average speed for the second hour was just 34.3km/h and Garmin’s Zabriskie joined HTC’s Grabsch and a few Lampre riders at the head of the peloton. They didn’t exactly “chase” though, rather they just tried not to run into the back of the escapees who lingered just ahead of the pack. The average speed for the third hour was 39.5km/h and the bunch hovered around 2’00” behind the three who tapped along at the front of the race knowing they were going to be swallowed up before the finish.
At the 41km mark, Perget (GCE) put in a brief attack that was quickly marked but it reduced the advantage to just 40”.
Setting Up The Sprint
At 29km to go, Benitez launched the first attack of the escape. Auge and Geslin responded quickly the, two kilometers later, Geslin put in one tiny surge before sitting up and waiting for the peloton. The bunch was just 18” behind. The escape was over at 22.5km to go. RadioShack led briefly, the was a two-man FDJ attack – from Roux and Roy – with 21km to go… and then the Saxo Bank squad moved to the front of the bunch which was traveling at 60km/h at the 20km to go sign.
The speed of Saxo Bank prompted several riders to drop from the peloton but not even the power of Cancellara could stop Chavanel from trying his luck – he attacked 8km from the line and was marked by Popovych. The HTC train caught him 7km from the line and then Lampre and Cervelo took control of the peloton.
A Lampre rider led three HTC-Columbia riders under the ‘flamme rouge’ but Cavendish’s boys were in command. When Renshaw hit his turbo button, he found himself to the left of Dean (GRM) who was leading out Farrar. The Australian headbutted his the ‘Kiwi’ three times and, as he did so, Petacchi opened up the sprint with 350m to go. But Cavendish never faltered: once he saw the Italian dart ahead, the leader of the HTC team sped into the lead to claim his third victory in the 2010 Tour and his 13th from four starts.
Andy Schleck finished 66th in the stage, with the same time as the winner. There is no change to the top order of the general classification and the Luxembourger will wear the yellow jersey in stage 12.
The rivalry between the two French riders at the top of the climbing classification continued in stage 11 even if Pineau and Charteau were chasing just one points on the only climb of the day.
“I don’t have the impression that this was a calm day. I really struggled to steal the one point at the col de Cabre but I had the help of several team-mates. It was a hard sprint, but we had to take this oppoortunity. The battle will continue with Anthony Charteau tomorrow. I’m starting to get closer to 100 points, but we both know that to win the polka-dot jersey, it will take about 140 points. To make this happen, I must move one step ahead before the climbs of the Pyrenees.”
“The victory of Cavendish was beautiful but the disqualification of Renshaw is rather cruel,” suggested a Belgian televison crew to Allan Peiper who had just been told the news. Here’s his reaction…
“I have only just been told about the disqualification and I can’t really believe it. Is he relegated in the stage? [“No, thrown out of the tour.”] And Farrar? He’s allowed to stay in the race? I can’t understand it.
“The other day we see one rider seeking out another to hit him with a wheel that he’s removed from a bike. I’ve seen the images. And today I didn’t see similar aggression. Farrar moved in and started to force Renshaw into the barriers but he was having none of it, he had no choice – he had to defend himself.
“Don’t think that Cavendish can’t win without Renshaw though… we’ll see about that. But I think this is a great shame for the sport of cycling. The fans have a soft spot for Mark Renshaw at this moment so it’s a pity to see such a ruling. If Mark [Renshaw] is gone, then it’s only going to be more exciting.”
“Contador is already on the bus having a shower,” joked Andy Schleck while doing the rounds of various television interviews after stage 11. But he always explains his perspective on the race with clarity and humor even if his thoughts were already on what was to come in 24 hours time…
“As soon as the Saxo boys go to the front there’s always panic in the peloton. For me, I’d rather take command of the race and ride like that than get caught behind when there’s a cross wind. I just said, ‘Okay, now we go…’ and with 15km to go we gave it everything. It was not to split the peloton, rather it was to stay out of trouble in the tricky downhill leading to the finish town.
“Tomorrow ends with a hard climb and I’ll be in front and try to gain some extra time. Who knows, if there’s a chance that I can win another stage then I’ll try to take it.
“Today didn’t cost any energy. It was actually a pretty easy day. I had the team surrounding me and, in the end, we went fast and I just wanted to come in safely.
“I expect Contador to attack on the final climb tomorrow but I also believe I can match him. It will be quite similar to the stage up to Morzine-Avoriaz, and there’s a possibility to make a difference. I’m focused on tomorrow’s stage. I like that climb up to Mende. It’s quite steep and hard. If I have the punch that I had a few days ago, I think I can still manage it well – or at least not lose time and maybe even gain time – and maybe win the stage. And the yellow jersey? Well, I have to keep it. There’s no option for that.”
He didn’t have the speed to beat Mark Cavendish for the stage win but second place was enough for Alessandro Petacchi to take over the lead in the points classification.
“Today the sprint was very, very fast. It was incredible because the speed in the last five kilometers was always over 60. For the sprint, it was very dangerous because in the last kilometers I was not in a good position but afterwards my team – and Danilo Hondo in particular – did good work and I was able to find a good position for the start of the sprint… but Mark [Cavendish] started before me and it was very difficult to catch him.
“Still, I’m very happy to have the green jersey.
"I was very upset with myself in 2003 when I quit the Tour while wearing the green jersey. I don’t want to do that again. I regretted doing that so I really want to fight to keep it.
“For me the this jersey is important and I think it’s possible to win sprints in this Tour but it’s important to go for points in the intermediate sprints. Hushovd and Robbie McEwen also want this jersey but now I think that Cavendish also has a lot of points so it will be very difficult. Winning the green jersey could come down to the last day in Paris…"
Mark Cavendish was still enjoying euphoria of winning a third stage in the 2010 Tour when he was told that his team-mate and lead-out man Mark Renshaw had been thrown out of the race. “That’s the UCI’s decision,” he lamented. “We’ll see what we can do to rectify it.”
Rarely is a decision overturned in cycling but here’s what ‘Cav’ had to say before hearding the disappointing news…
“It’s nice to keep winning. I’ve got a dedicated group of guys and I’ve got to thank them all. Michael Rogers has passed the Alpes and now he’s pulling massive turns – he’s always helping anyway – but today he did big, big turns and, obviously, the other guys wound themselves up as well.
“It takes a great group of guys to keep putting themselves out there. I’m really happy.
“I had to go from a bit further out today – 350 meters to go, while normally I go between 250 and 200… so it was really, really long. It was more like a breakaway in terms of sprinting.
“Mark held Julian Dean off and opened the door for me to go.
“It was Julian who put his elbow in and if Mark didn’t push back there was a chance they could have locked elbows and gone down… Mark just kept going and did everything he could to keep me out of trouble. I’m lucky to have a guy who will put himself on the line for me like that. He’s got incredible bike handling skills and it’s so nice to be able to follow his wheel from 50 kilometers to go and know that, at the finish, I’ll be put in a winning position.
“It was a hard first week in terms of getting the green jersey. I lost a lot of chances to gain points – mainly my own fault in the Arenberg stage, when I thought there was a big group ahead so I rolled in quite easy… but I really should have finished in with McEwen’s group and it might be a bit different. Then, the day after, I just didn’t have the legs and that put me even further behind.
“Now it’s about getting stage wins. If the green jersey comes, it comes but it’s a great battle. Thor and Alessandro are great sprinters and it’s actually fun to watch that battle unfold.”
With his second place today, Alessandro Petacchi has inherited the lead in the points classification. He has 161 points, four more than former leader, Thor Hushovd.
There will be no change to the top order of the general classification after stage 11. The top 10 in Bourg-les-Valence is: 1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) THR - 184.5km in 4h42’29" 2. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) LAM 3. Tyler Farrar (USA) GRM 4. Jose Joaquim Rojas (ESP) GCE 5. Robbie McEwen (AUS) KAT 6. Yukiya Arashiro (JPN) BTL 7. Thor Hushovd (NOR) CTT 8. Lloyd Mondory (FRA) ALM 9. Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) OLO 10. Gerald Ciolek (GER) MRM
Renshaw’s headbutts were not aimed at Farrar but the American’s lead-out man Julian Dean.
The last lead-out man for Cavendish - Mark Renshaw - headbutted Farrar three times before the sprint really began... but the American fought on to finish third.
Cavendish beats Petacchi and Farrar to win the 11th stage.