Mark Cavendish has won the third stage of the Tour de France to cement his reputation as the fastest man in cycling, following a devastating spell of riding by his Team Columbia colleagues.
Cavendish, who is now becoming unbeatable in sprint finishes, once again showed his rivals a clean pair of heels, beating Norwegian Thor Hushovd to the line at the end of a dramatic 196km stage from Marseille to La Grand Motte. The victory, Cavendish’s second after his win on Sunday — and his sixth stage success in just two years — consolidated the Briton’s lead in the green jersey points competition. Cavendish talks to CNN » However, the real story of the day saw seven-times winner Lance Armstrong move up to third position in the general classification after his main rivals missed a late split in the peloton. There was no indication of the drama that was to lie ahead, when four riders broke clear early in the stage. Maxime Bouet, Samuel Demoulin, Ruben Perez Moreno and Koen de Koert accumulated a lead of over 11 minutes at one stage.
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But the Columbia team came to the head of the peloton to lead the chase and — as well as catching the breakaway quartet with 25km left — they managed to split the peloton, such was their power of their work at the front and the cross-winds which caused chaos behind. Only 27 riders managed to get into the split, including all nine of the Columbia team, but significantly Armstrong and yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara both got themselves into the leading group. In the end, the sprint was a formality for Cavendish but, with the breakaway group finishing 41 seconds ahead of the peloton, Armstrong proved the big winner, gaining time on all his rivals including Astana team-mate and 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador, defending champion Carlos Sastre and Giro d’Italia winner Denis Menchov. Cancellara has increased his overall advantage to 33 seconds from Team Columbia’s Tony Martin, with Armstrong a further seven seconds away in third position and Contador down to fourth place — 59 seconds adrift of Cancellara. After the race, Cavendish praised the remarkable work put in by his Columbia team-mates. “We were the only team ready to take the race on — and what a way to stick it to everybody else,” he told Eurosport TV.
“It was meant to be a sprint stage but nobody wanted to work for it. In the end my team-mates got me in the perfect position once again, although it was closer than on Sunday with Thor Hushovd on my back,” he added. Tuesday’s fourth stage is the 39km team time-trial around Montpellier and the Columbia team, fresh from their team time-trial win in the Giro, will be favorites to claim another victory — perhaps launching German rider Martin into the yellow jersey in the process.