Britain’s Mark Cavendish continued his domination of the Tour de France sprint stages Sunday by claiming his fourth win of the race to take his career tally to an unrivalled 19 on stage 15. France’s Thomas Voeckler, of the Europcar team, remained in the yellow jersey after the mainly flat but wind-buffeted ride over 193 km from Limoux to Montpellier which had the overall contenders fighting for survival.
Voeckler maintained his 1min 49sec lead on Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck, with Australian Cadel Evans in third at 2:06. Andy Schleck, the runner-up the past two years, is fourth at 2:15 while three-time and reigning champion Alberto Contador of Spain is seventh at 4:00.
Cavendish meanwhile showed that when his team are in control, he is virtually unstoppable. After a strong ride by HTC-Highroad, which helped chase down an earlier five-man breakaway and then countered a late move by Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert, Cavendish was quick to share the plaudits.
“I don’t think there’s been one of my 19 wins that I’ve done alone, and that just shows the commitment those guys have towards me and I’m incredibly lucky for that,” said Cavendish. I crossed the finish line first but it’s not just me. I did 200 metres today in a 200 km stage. The team rode and delivered me to the line. I’m incredibly proud to be associated with them.”
Although Belgian legend Eddy Merckx holds the race record of 34 stage wins Cavendish is by far the most successful sprinter ever on the race.
After a windy ride into Montpellier which had Evans, the Schlecks and Contador nervously trying to avoid losing time due to splits in the peloton, his team remained in control despite the technical approach to the finish line. The cosmopolitan American outfit then kept their composure when Gilbert, Cavendish’s principle rival for the points competition’s green jersey, launched an attack with three kilometres to race. Cavendish’s Australian teammate Matt Goss admitted Gilbert, who won stage one to take the yellow jersey and has been a threat for Cavendish throughout, had to be brought to heel.
“Gilbert went, and you’ve got to worry,” said Goss. “You see how strong and how good he is. We certainly had to make sure we got him back.”
HTC-Highroad reeled the Omega-Pharma rider in and with just over 200 metres to race Cavendish emerged from the wheel of Australian lead-out man Mark Renshaw and drove hard for the finish where he beat American Tyler Farrar into second. Garmin sprinter Farrar, who secured his maiden Tour victory on stage three, had hoped to benefit from the slipstream of lead-out man Julian Dean however the New Zealander got stuck behind HTC.
“I couldn’t come off the wheel there to give Tyler that extra bit of speed he needed at the finish. There was nothing we could do today,” said Dean. “HTC were right on their game.”
After surviving three tough stages in the Pyrenees Farrar admitted he is looking forward to a rest.
“It was a stressful day with lots of wind but the team rode all day and got me into good position in the finale,” said the American. “I really wanted the win today but unfortunately it just didn’t turn out. I think we’re all ready for the rest day tomorrow and we will look forward to next week and another try on the Champs (Elysees).”
Monday is the second rest day of the race, which resumes Tuesday with a hilly 162.5 km ride from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap on stage 16.
Voeckler is likely to keep the yellow jersey at least until then; however, despite punching above his weight so far, the Frenchman said he is under no illusions.
He said: “I give myself zero percent chance of winning the Tour de France.”