(Road Bike Action & AFP; Photo: Bettini)
Mark Cavendish won his 26th Tour de France stage on Friday as he inched closer to Eddy Merckx’s overall record. The Belgian great is still well clear out in front with 34 but his fellow five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault is only two stages ahead of Cavendish now. The Briton flew past Andre Greipel in the final 50-meters to break the German’s strangled-hold on sprint finishes at this year’s race. Greipel had won the first two sprint finishes in which Cavendish could manage only fourth and third, but the Manx Missile found a gap down the inside of the burly German as Peter Sagan went around the outside to win by a half bike’s length.
“The gap was there and I just went for it. Greipel’s a gentleman he could have closed it — Sagan would have closed it,” said Cavendish.
The win was Etixx-Quick Step’s second in a row and third of this Tour and went some way to making up for losing the yellow jersey due to Tony Martin’s broken collarbone. Martin crashed on Thursday’s stage and had to quit the race despite being in the leader’s yellow jersey, before undergoing a successful operation in Hamburg on Friday.
“I’m very happy, I waited a week now for this win personally. It’s Etixx’s third win of this Tour de France. The team’s been phenomenal, it’s just me that’s let them down in the sprints,” said Cavendish. “They could have saved themselves for other days but they didn’t and went full gas for the win. I’m supper happy, it’s just a shame Tony’s not here but I dedicate the win to him.”
Greipel just held on by inches for second ahead of Sagan to keep hold of the green points jersey. Sagan, though, moved up to second in the overall standings with his four bonus seconds for finishing third and is now just five seconds behind race leader Chris Froome. But he ruled out taking the yellow jersey on Saturday’s eighth stage, with a 2km climb at the finish.
“I have to drop him (Froome) in the climb and I don’t think I can do that,” said Sagan with a smile.
The 30-year-old Briton refused to wear the yellow jersey on Friday as respect for Martin, who would have donned it but for his broken collarbone. American Tejay Van Garderen is third overall at 13sec. While Cavendish, who crashed out of the first stage in last year’s race with a separated shoulder, ended his two-year wait for a stage win, Sagan’s own drought goes on.
He now has five top three finishes this year and 18 top five results — including eight second places — since his last win on stage seven in 2013. Bizarrely, before the stage even began, two-time former winner Alberto Contador fell in the neutral zone but he was able to continue. Right from the off a five-man breakaway went clear including Eritrea’s Daniel Teklehaimanot. The 26-year-old had taken the king of the mountains polkadot jersey on Thursday and wanted the one climbing point on offer, which he duly took 14km into the race.
The five-man group never got more than 4min down the road though as the sprinters’ teams controlled proceedings. The last two breakaway riders, Luis Angel Mate and Brice Feillu were reeled in with just 11km left. The sprinters’ teams then controlled things until the final dash for the line and Cavendish’s victory.
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR/ETI) 4hr 27min 25sec
2. André Greipel (GER/LOT) at 0:00.
3. Peter Sagan (SVK/TIN) 0:00.
4. John Degenkolb (GER/GIA) 0:00.
5. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) 0:00.
6. Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ) 0:00.
7. Tyler Farrar (USA/MTN) 0:00.
8. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA/MTN) 0:00.
9. Davide Cimolai (ITA/LAM) 0:00.
10. Sam Bennett (IRL/BOA) 0:00.
1. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 26hr 40min 51sec
2. Peter Sagan (SVK/TIN) at 0:11sec
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 0:13.
4. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) 0:26.
5. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) 0:28.
6. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 0:34.
7. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 0:36.
8. Zdenek Stybar (CZE/ETI) 0:52.
9. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 1:03.
10. Warren Barguil (FRA/GIA) 1:07.