Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) finally ended his losing streak on Thursday, sprinting to victory in the sun-splashed, sedate fifth stage of the Tour de France.
The sole survivor of a daylong break was swept up just 4km from the line on the narrow streets of Montargis. And while Garmin-Transitions appeared to have designed a textbook lead-out for sprinter Tyler Farrar, it was HTC’s Mark Renshaw driving it straight up the middle in the final meters with the Manx Missile on his wheel.
This time, Cav’ would not be denied — he lit it up and left everyone in his dust to take his first victory in this year’s Tour. Team Milram’s Gerald Ciolek crossed second with Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen third.
There were no changes in the overall standings — Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara retained his yellow jersey.
“The team never gave up on me, they kept believing in me,” Cavendish said. “It’s incredible to win a stage in the most important race in the world. I had a bad start to this Tour. I set myself up so high after last year, and things haven’t gone as I would have liked.
“I want to thank the people who stuck by me. A lot of people said bad things about me, I am sure I gave them reason to. The pressure was really high.”
Warm weather, cool peloton
The 187.5km leg from Épernay to Montargis was largely flat and relatively short. There were two rated climbs early in the stage — the Category 4 Côte d’Orbais-l’Abbaye at 18.5km and the Cat. 4 Côte de Mécringes at 36.5km —followed by some slightly rolling terrain.
But the finale in Montargis was surprisingly technical, threading through narrow back roads before making a sharp turn onto the slightly uphill straightaway to the finish line.
It was a warm, sunny day, with temps in the 90s and little to no wind — perfect for an unscheduled rest day for the yellow-jersey contenders.
The obligatory early break took off at 5km, comprising Julien el Fares (Cofidis), Spanish national champion Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) and Jurgen van de Walle (Quick Step).
None of the riders posed a threat in the KOM or points contests, so the break was given a long leash as the peloton containing the favorites for the overall looked ahead to three grueling days in the Alpe beginning Saturday.
The escapees built a lead of nearly eight minutes before the peloton decided to start tugging them back. HTC-Columbia, Rabobank and Saxo Bank clocked in and went to work, and with 100km to go the break’s advantage was down to less than four minutes.
The day’s break
- Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse D’Epargne), 50th at 03:24
- Julien El Fares (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 92nd at 07:32
- Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step), 120th at 11:07
Fifty kilometers further along the trio had only two minutes on the peloton, led by HTC-Columbia’s Maxime Monfort and Kanstantin Sivtsov — hoping to finally squeeze a stage win out of a frustrated, angry Cavendish — with an assist from Lampre’s Grega Bole. Caisse d’Epargne was contributing riders to the effort, too, and the gap stayed in the two-minute neighborhood for the next 20km.
The peloton hunts down the break
With 25km to go Lampre had added more riders to the pursuit, betting that fast man Alessandro Petacchi could take a third sprint victory, and Cervélo TestTeam was moving forward on behalf of green jersey Thor Hushovd. The lead trio’s advantage was coming down, albeit slowly, to 90 seconds.
The roads grew narrow in the final kilometers, giving an edge to the men in the break, who still clung to a lead of 1:15 with 15km to race.
That advantage finally dipped to under a minute with 12km to go. Two kilometers later it was 45 seconds, and the peloton was closing in fast, reshaping itself as teams tried to set up sprinters or safeguard their GC men in what was sure to be a fast, dangerous finale.
A roundabout further rearranged the bunch as some riders took the long way around, but HTC stayed firmly in control at the front, the break in sight just 23 seconds ahead.
Then Gutierrez took off with 6km to go, quickly taking a gap over his break-mates as the peloton closed in. The bunch swept them up and then went after the Spanish road champ.
Gutierrez goes it alone — and Cav’ seals the deal
Cav’s Tour de France stage wins
- 2008: Stages 5, 8, 12, 13
- 2009: Stage 2, 3, 10, 11, 19, 21
- 2010: Stage 5
Related: A look at Cav’s bike
Gutierrez hit the 5km-to-go point with 13 seconds’ advantage. He would not hold it — with 4km to race the chase was breathing down his neck. A quick look over his shoulder and he gave up, sliding down the field as the sprinters’ teams began jockeying for position.
Lampre shouldered its way into the HTC train as Garmin-Transitions also came forward for Farrar with 3km to race. Renshaw had Cavendish on his wheel, but the two were still several wheels behind.
Garmin’s David Millar, Robert Hunter and Dean led Farrar into the final 2km. But the HTC men moved up in the final right-hand corner and Renshaw punched it straight up the middle — and in what proved to be a Garmin-HTC drag race to the line, Cavendish finally sealed the deal, with Ciolek second and Boasson Hagen third.
A breakaway will go early and be given a long leash in Friday’s stage 6, the longest of the Tour, but the sprinters teams will likely pull it back on the wide boulevards heading into Gueugnon. Two Cat. 4 climbs early and two more in the last 50km will put some sting in riders’ legs, but are unlikely to affect the outcome of the race.
More on stage 6.
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Best Young Rider (GC)
Team GC leader