Tour de France - Cavendish wins, Wiggins out
Fri, 08 Jul 17:05:00 2011
After a trademark lead-out by his HTC-Highroad team-mates, Cavendish proved too strong for his rivals and took the bunch sprint ahead of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) to win the 218km stage seven from Le Mans to Chateauroux.
It was the Isle of Man rider's 17th stage win in the Tour - and came in the same town where he recorded his first ever Tour victory back in 2008.
"This was the one I wanted most - apart from Paris - because of the sentiment," Cavendish said before launching into a staunch defence of his team's domineering tactics. "I'm so proud of the guys, they were phenomenal today. People say I have no respect for other riders, but other riders have no respect for our team. They try to get on our train but they should get their own train. If you want results, you should get a team together that can deliver."
But Cavendish's victory was soured by news of the abandonment of his compatriot and friend Wiggins, the Team Sky leader, who was involved in a pile-up in the peloton 40km from the finish and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken left collarbone.
When informed of Wiggins' withdrawal, Cavendish's mood suddenly soured. "Oh s----. I didn't know that. I'm gutted for him. He was in the best form of his life."
The pile-up which ended the hopes of British national champion Wiggins also caught out a number of big-name riders, including Astana's Roman Kreuziger, RadioShack trio Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Yaroslav Popovych, and the promising Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo). They finished in a group of 80 riders which rolled in more than three minutes behind winner Cavendish.
Yellow jersey Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) avoided the crash to finish a strong seventh place, but his American team-mate Tyler Farrar - winner of stage three in Independence Day and much fancied for the sprint - was caught up in the chaos.
The flattest day of the Tour started with another series of rain showers in the town of Le Mans. After just four kilometres of racing a break formed featuring Pablo Urtasun Perez (Euskaltel), Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun), Gianni Meersman and Mickael Delage (both FDJ).
The four leaders built up a maximum gap of eight minutes as the race edged through the Loire Valley - but with the day's important intermediate sprint coming later than usual, just 25km from the finish, the pace was soon ramped up by the teams of those riders with aspirations in the green jersey compeition.
The fast pace and strong crosswinds made the peloton increasingly nervous and with 50km left to ride a small crash occurred involving a handful of riders, including Kreuziger and Popovych. But it was merely a taster of things to come. 10km later, a huge spill in the peloton brought down more than 20 riders, sending many of them into the ditches on both sides of the tree-lined road.
With Wiggins on the floor, the whole of the British-based Team Sky stopped to wait for their leader, who started the morning in sixth place in the GC, 10 seconds down on Hushovd.
But with a bloodied Wiggins grimacing in pain and holding his left arm, the remaining Sky riders were told to get back on their bikes and continue racing. Moments later, the 31-year-old was being bundled into an ambulance, his podium hopes left in tatters.
It was a cruel blow for Team Sky, who 24 hours earlier has recorded their first ever win in the Tour when Edvald Boasson Hagen roared to an emphatic win in Lisieux.
Back on the road, the four riders passed through the intermediate sprint with a gap of 1:05 to play with. But the inevitable happened with 12km left to ride.
The Manxman's former team-mate Greipel attacked on the other side of the road, but the German did not have enough power to reel in his rival. Finishing in between them was a resurgent Petacchi, whose sprinting form so far on the Tour has been patchy to say the least.
With his second stage victory and strong showing in the intermediate sprint - where he beat all his rivals to the maximum possible points after the top four places had been taken by the escapees - Cavendish moved into third in the green jersey competition, six points behind Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and 17 points shy of new leader Jose Rojas (Movistar).
Hushovd maintained his one-second advantage over Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) but the Norwegian is expected to lose the jersey on Saturday with the Tour's first foray into the mountains. The 189km stage eight from Aigurande to Super-Besse includes four climbs including the second category Col de le Croix Saint-Robert.Felix Lowe / Eurosport