AUBENAS, France, July 24, 2009 (AFP) – Mark Cavendish set a new British record for stage wins on the Tour de France when he sprinted to his fifth win of this year’s Tour de France, and ninth overall, on the 19th stage Friday.
Cavendish, who rides for Columbia, held off green jersey rival Thor Hushovd of Norway with a wicked turn of pace in the final 200 meters of an uphill sprint after he had been led in by German teammate Tony Martin.
Hushovd finished second while Germany’s Gerald Ciolek of Milram took third on the 178km stage which began in Bourgoin-Jallieu and which failed, as anticipated, to produce a winning breakaway.
Cavendish admitted he was a little surprised to contend a bunch sprint, and was quick to pay tribute to his team.
“If today’s stage was in the first week we’d have pulled for the sprint,”
said the 24-year-old ‘Manx Express’ who has now eclipsed the previous British record of eight stages held by former England great Barry Hoban.
“It was another amazing ride they (team) did. To pull that off the day before the Mont Ventoux shows they’ve got no egos.”
Ahead of Saturday’s 20th stage, which includes the 21.1km climb to the summit of the Mont Ventoux, Spaniard Alberto Contador of Astana retained the yellow jersey with a 4min 11sec lead on Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck.
Third place overall, Lance Armstrong finished just behind the sprinters to close his gap to Contador by four seconds, although the American is still well off the pace of his teammate at 5:21.
Contador, who admitted he will take a “conservative” approach to defending his lead on Saturday, admitted it had been tough from the outset.
“It was a very difficult day with a very fast start because a lot of teams didn’t have riders represented in the early breakaway,” said Contador.
“It was also very fast on the climb because a lot of teams wanted to drop Cavendish off the back.”
With the summit of the third climb, rated category two and 14km long, 15km from the finish this stage was not expected to produce a bunch sprint.
But despite the peloton’s efforts to shake Cavendish on the Col d’Escrinet, he held on for grim death, got over the top and soon put his teammates to work chasing down a two-man break.
Cavendish admitted it had been a hard day at the office, but one that was made easier by his team.
“Rabobank probably didn’t think I’d get over the climb, that’s why they pulled full gas. It was really grim near the top of that climb,” said Cavendish.
“I set the top of the climb as my finish line and anything after that was a bonus. Having my teammates there isn’t going to make me get over the climb but it certainly stops me giving up.”
After a nervous start a 19-man group which included pre-race contender Cadel Evans of Silence finally managed to escape the peloton and went on to build a lead of nearly three minutes.
However several teams, notably the Rabobank team of sprinter Oscar Freire, began chasing and, on their way to an impressive average of over 46.31 km/h for the day, the breakaway was brought to heel prior to the final climb.
Frenchman Laurent Lefevre of Bbox attacked near the top and he was soon caught by Italy’s reigning world road race champion Alessandro Ballan of Lampre but Ballan, after another solo attempt, was caught 1km from the finish.
Hushovd, wearing his green jersey for the points competition, was tight on Cavendish’s wheel but the Isle of Man sprinter was benefiting throughout on the slipstream of Martin.
Once the German peeled off Cavendish pummeled the pedals and Hushovd, pulling what appeared to be a bigger gear, could do little as he had to settle for second.
His 30-point lead over Cavendish is now down to 25, meaning their battle for the green jersey will likely be fought Sunday on the Champs Elysees.