Stage 18: Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde, 222.5km
Mark Cavendish (Sky) claimed a tremendous victory – his 22nd overall at the Tour and the second of this edition – as a breakaway and a flying Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) narrowly missed out on victory.
A huge breakaway including David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Jeremy Roy (FDJ-BigMat), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) went away 67km into the stage, and initially looked dangerous.
But, unlike on earlier flat stages, Liquigas and GreenEDGE weren’t willing to let this breakaway prevent another bunch sprint, and there began an exciting and dramatic finish to the stage. Roy and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) were joined at the front by Vinokourov, Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Luca Paolini (Katusha), and had around a 30-second lead with just 10km remaining.
As Roy and Nuyens fell back there came late attacks from Roche, Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Nissan) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), with the Irishman seemingly in pole position to take his first Grand Tour win. But in the last kilometre Cavendish, led by teammate and maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, leapt out of the narrow peloton, jumping from wheel to wheel and accelerating past the brave breakaway participants in the final 150 metres to take an ultimately dominant win.
VeloVoices rider of the day
It is tough to select a rider of the day after a stage in which so many have caught the eye, but I’m going to award it to Nicolas Roche, after his impressive late effort. A rider usually specialising on the climbs made an exciting – and strong – move on a relatively flat finish, and it nearly paid dividends. The son of former Tour winner Stephen sits 11th overall, and a good time trial tomorrow could see him into the top ten. He’s ridden a very impressive race so far and looks certain to improve on his best previous Tour finish of 14th in 2010. With his contract up at the end of the season, he’ll no doubt be attracting attention from some of cycling’s bigger outfits.
The romantic in me was desperate for Alexandre Vinokourov to take a victory today – what would likely have been his final chance at taking a professional win – with him retiring after the race. The ever aggressive Kazakh was awarded the combativity prize after his umpteenth breakaway this Tour, but it’s unlikely to be any consolation. Let’s hope we see one last hurrah with a solo effort on the Champs-Élysées on Sunday.
Sky were reluctant to initially close down the breakaway with their Norwegian national champion Edvald Boasson Hagen present – a smart move which placed the onus on other teams to do so – but once he fell back he continued to work hard to try to deliver the stage for his teammate. Bradley Wiggins acted as stand-in lead-out man for the second time in the race, repaying the efforts of the world champion throughout the Tour with a perfect delivery.
But two teams who won’t be so happy are Liquigas and GreenEDGE. The former’s powerhouse Daniel Oss worked incredibly hard to shut down the breakaway in the final 10km, only for Peter Sagan to be comfortably beaten by Cavendish. However, third place was enough to confirm Sagan’s victory in the points classification, as long as he completes the formality of finishing the race.
GreenEDGE have even greater reason not to be cheerful – they don’t have the green jersey as consolation for missing out on the stage victory. They have failed to win a stage throughout the entire Tour – a disappointing result for a team who supposedly boast one of cycling’s top sprinters, Matt Goss.
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