His team suggested that it would put the onus of chasing down the escape on the Lampre team at the start of the day but the Mark Cavendish’s HTC-Columbia squad realized that this was a chance to not only pick up another sprint victory, it was an opportunity for the super-fast Brit to put himself within striking distance of the green jersey. By beating Julian Dean and Alessandro Petacchi, winning a fourth stage this year – and a 14th at the Tour from four starts – ‘Cav’ is now just 16 points shy of the lead in the points classification. He is the master of the sprint and anyone who denies this must look at the final kilometer of stage 18.
On the streets of Bordeaux all the best sprinters were all lined up, ready to race and while Thor Hushovd had a lead-out, Petacchi had a train of men working for him all day long, and Sky tried to sneak onto the podium with a late lead-out, it was ‘Cav’ who beat them all with a stunningly fast kick in the closing meters.
The Progress Report
The 198km 18th stage of the 2010 Tour de France, from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux, began at 1.02pm with 171 riders in the race. The journey north included two intermediate sprints – in Castelnau-Chalosse (at 29.5km) and Hostens (150.5km). There were no climbs on a day when the conditions were mild with temperatures in the mid-20s at the start.
Four Establish An Escape
At the 11km mark, the first successful escape in what was a fast start to the stage, broke free. The men involved were: Daniel Oss (LIQ), Jerome Pineau (QST), Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ) and Matti Breschel (SAX). At 18km they had a lead of 30” while HTC, Lampre and Garmin send riders to the front of the bunch. They advantage increased steadily reaching 3’35” but never more in the first hour which was raced at an average speed of 45.4km/h. Lampre and HTC-Columbia were the only teams doing turns of pace at the front of the peloton for the second and third hours when the average speed of the race was 40.6km/h and 40.3km/h. With 45km to go, Milram sent two riders forward to contribute to the pace setting.
Bringing Back The Breakaway
The peloton steadily closed in on the four escapees: 1’55” at 30km to go; 1’10” with 25km to go; and 37” with 15km to go. The first to attack the lead group was Pineau (14km from the finish) but he was quickly chased down, then Oss when on the right side of the road and the other three conceded and waited for the peloton. They were caught 12km from the finish when Oss was ahead by 32”. Oss insisted with his attack until the 4km to go mark.
Sky Set Up The Sprint… And Cavendish Takes The Spoils
Once Oss was reeled in Team Sky came to the front and rode a solid formation all the way to the 800m to go mark. Barry led Lovkvist, Wiggins, Flecha, Thomas and Boasson Hagen in what seemed like it would be the perfect lead-out but then the peloton shifted all the way to the right and ‘Eddy’ got boxed in. Lancaster moved ahead and Hushovd was well placed to sprint down the right but Petacchi launched his bid for another stage win by going on the left of the road. Once Cavendish saw the Italian make his jump, he responded immediately, almost getting on the wheel of the Lampre sprinter but then surging down the center of the road and into the lead.
After he started his victory salute, he had enough time – and room – to look around and check out where his rivals were… and what he saw was that they were well behind! Julian Dean was the best of the rest, followed by Petacchi who replaces Hushovd as the leader of the points classification after the Norwegian finished 14th. Cavendish’s fourth victory this year puts him just 16 points away from the green jersey.
Alberto Contador finished 56th in the stage but will wear the yellow jersey and be the last rider to start the time trial of stage 19.
He won the final time trial of the Tour in 2009 but Alberto Contador realizes that the course for the last true test of the race in 2010 isn’t so well suited to the way he dances on the pedals…
“At the present time I am in front, but tomorrow I’m not sure I’ll be in the same situation. In a three-week race, anything can happen at the last moment. Besides physically I feel fine today but it may very well change from one day to another.
“Today was still a little tricky because in these last days, we feel the end is near and we experience the excitement that goes with it. Fortunately I have a team that looked after me all day, and it went smoothly. But in the last two kilometers, it went very quickly and I was not completely at ease.
“Tomorrow I know it’s a flat course, in the vineyards. It does not offer much of a chance to dance on the pedals [and ride out of the saddle] throughout the course. Of course, I have to give my all and not just for me but based on the times that Andy posts. I also hope to win the stage.”
He didn’t have to do a lot of work on a day when the sprinters teams were back in command but Andy Schleck still had a job to do: save energy for the time trial…
“I hope my legs will be okay. I know tomorrow is going to be the most important day of my cycling life. I’m ready to fight. I know it was a fairly hard day yesterday and I’m a little surprised with how good I feel today. I could spin the legs at a time when I saw many riders were pushing heavy gears because they’re just dead. For my part I felt pretty good and today was basically a case of economizing and not spending too much energy and have it for tomorrow.”
With his third place in the stage, the sprint specialist from Lampre is back in the lead of the points classification: 10 points ahead of former leader Thor Hushovd, and 16 points in front of the four-time stage winner Mark Cavendish.
“I’ve won two stages and I’m very happy and I want this jersey. It’s difficult to keep the green in Paris, I think, because Cavendish is very fast and it’s possible that he will win one more stage and it’s important for me to do a good sprint in Paris.
“I’m very tired after the Pyrenees and I’m a little sick. I’ve taken some antibiotic and that’s making me more tired but today I was still in the race. I started my sprint from a long way out and the headwind made it very difficult to go… but I couldn’t stop because I was thinking of the points for the green jersey. I saw Hushovd near the finish line and I knew he was still able to get points but I had to keep trying.
“Today I saw I would lose the stage to Cavendish – he is so quick – but I still wanted second place because it makes a difference for the green jersey.”
Another flat stage, another win for Mark Cavendish. He makes it look easy but beating the fastest guys in the world at the end of a three week race is never a simple affair… especially for a guy who didn’t think he could even start the 18th stage.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to even start the stage. I’ve been sick the last four days with bronchitis – actually, there are a hell of a lot of guys in the peloton with the same thing so I’m not only one. But I finally had the fever yesterday and I was dead last night and never thought I could start today. We decided, ‘Oh, okay I’ll go. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t…’
“Even during the stage, I was speaking with Brad [Wiggins] and he said, ‘Are you sprinting today?’ And I told him, ‘Yeah.’
“He then told me that I’m not normally as talkative as I was when I’m up for a sprint. But I told him that we didn’t really have the pressure on and if I don’t win, we know the reason… but it was so nice to see the guys working so incredibly hard. I was sitting in 10th wheel and the guys were pulling and pulling and pulling. The guys in the escape were strong and also very clever and, as we saw in the end, it was hard to bring back [Daniel] Oss – he did a brilliant ride at the finish – and we had to use Michael [Rogers] and Tony [Martin] to pull him back.
“It was up me to kind of freestyle for the last kilometer. I was jumping from wheel to wheel; I was back to my old style of sprinting and it worked out, so it’s okay.
“This one is for Mark [Renshaw]. We actually planned a celebration. I was going write ‘Renshaw’ on my gloves but Bob said I couldn’t do stuff like that. But I think the whole team rode the way they did for Mark today. It was remarkable. We miss him in the team, we miss him when we’re racing, we miss him at the dinner table and I still think it’s a shame that he left in the circumstances that he did.
“I’ll never say never when it comes to the green jersey but I lost it in the first week. It hasn’t really been my aim. At the end of the day, I like to win bike races. I’ve always said, ‘If I win the green jersey by winning races, that’ll do.’ We’ll try and win again in Paris and see what happens.”
Once again, Mark Cavendish has won the stage on the final Friday of the Tour de France (as he did in Aubenas last year). The top 10 in stage 18 is: 1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) THR 2. Julian Dean (NZL) GRM 3. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) LAM 4. Robbie McEwen (AUS) KAT 5. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB 6. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) SKY 7. Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) OLO 8. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) GCE 9. Grega Bole (SLO) LAM 10. Ruben Perez (ESP) EUS
Alessandro Petacchi hit out the moment that Lancaster dropped Hushovd off to start his sprint. The Italian went down the left side of the road and it prompted Cavendish to hit the turbo button. Once he did that, it was daylight in second place... the HTC-Columbia rider is simply the best sprinter in the Tour. He has taken his fourth victory this year and his 14th from four starts.
Mark Cavendish has rewarded his troops for all the work they did throughout the stage. He has won his 14th Tour stage by beating Julian Dean and Alessandro Petacchi.
Lancaster is now leading Hushovd out for the sprint... but Cav has gone and appears unstoppable!
Barry is now leading Lovkist, Wiggins, Flecha, Thomas and Boasson Hagen at the front of the peloton which is less than 2km from the finish.