BRIVE-LA-GAILLARDE, France (AFP) — World champion Mark Cavendish won the 18th stage of the Tour de France, a 226km ride between Blagnac and Brive-La-Gaillarde, on Friday to claim his 22nd career victory on the race.
Sky teammate and compatriot Bradley Wiggins came over the finish line seconds later with his 2:05 overall lead on teammate Chris Froome intact.
Wiggins, who is set to become Britain’s first Tour winner on Sunday, played a starring role for his Sky teammate in what was a technical, thrilling finale into Brive. Riders intent on stealing the world champ’s thunder launched a number of attacks from the breakaway in the closing kilometers, but the Sky train was not to be derailed.
Wiggins pulled at the front for Cavendish in the closing 1.5km before peeling off and letting Norwegian teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen take over the job of leading the chase.
In the closing 400 meters Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale), seeing the peloton closing in on the day’s breakaway, made a bid for victory with Luis Leon Snachez (Rabobank) sticking on his wheel. But with the line in sight Cavendish emerged from nowhere and dug deep to deliver a trademark turn of speed that handed him his second stage win of the race and 22nd of his career.
Cavendish, who won stage 2 to take his tally to 21, has had to shelve his ambitions in the race this year as Sky took aim at overall victory. And he admitted it took some persuasion to convince his team bosses he could grab his 22nd stage win two days before the race finishes in Paris.
“It’s incredible. We came here with the aim of winning the yellow jersey, and we’re first and second on GC,” said Cavendish. “You can’t ask for anything more than that.
“It did put my sprint chances on the back foot. But today I said, ‘please just give me a chance in the sprint.’ And then Brad jumped in and said, ‘yes, we’ll go for the sprint, we’ll lead it out.'”
Wiggins said he’d wanted to lead his former madison partner from the pair’s track days out in a Tour sprint for years.
“He proved today that he’s the fastest man in the word. As if there were any doubt,” said Wiggins. “I’ve always wanted to do that for him. That was the first time I’ve led him out for a Tour stage win.”
Sanchez and Roche, who would eventually finish fourth and fifth, could only gesture in disbelief.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was second, just ahead of green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
Editor’s Note: Keep your browser pointed to VeloNews.com for more from stage 18 of the Tour de France.