(Photos: Yuzuru Sunada)
Britain's Mark Cavendish moved to squash speculation of another sprint clash with Frenchman Romain Feillu after claiming his third stage win of this year's Tour de France Wednesday.
HTC-Highroad sprinter Cavendish and Feillu, who rides for Vacansoleil, traded barbs in the first week of the race as they battled for supremacy on the hectic bunch finishes.
Both riders have accused each other of being dangerous and apt to causing crashes. Cavendish notably labelled Feillu, who has yet to win a stage on the race, a "kamikaze".
But after clashing with Feillu 600 meters from the finish of the 167.5 km stage from Blaye-Les-Mines to Lavaur - suffering a problem with his shoe in the process - the Isle of Man sprinter quickly absolved the Frenchman of any blame.
"With about 600 metres to go my shoe banged into his front wheel, my buckle came out, so my foot technically came out the shoe," explained Cavendish. "I had to reach down and redo the ratchet with 600 to go. "There was nothing intentional, nothing dangerous. I'm not complaining about Feillu today, it could have been anybody else in the same situation."
German sprinter Andre Greipel, meanwhile, later pointed the finger at Feillu.
He finished second, but accused the Frenchman of trying to barge his lead-out man Jurgen Roelandts off the road.
"There was a big problem with Feillu. He deliberately tried to put Roelandts off the road," said the German. "That's why it was such a long sprint, and also dangerous. But I'm happy with my second place today."
Feillu said his sprint had been error-free. "I got closed in while I was in a great position. It's infuriating," said the Frenchman. "I was on Cavendish and Greipel's wheel... I didn't make any mistakes. I just didn't have any luck."
As Cavendish took his third sprint victory from this year's race to take his career tally to 18, Feillu could only finish sixth. The Frenchman later revealed he has been suffering from a sore right knee and had pulled out ahead of the 12th stage - the first of three consecutive days in the Pyrenees mountains - on Thursday.