BORDEAUX, France, (Reuters) – Mark Cavendish showed he needed no help in sprint finishes when he won the 198-km 18th stage of the Tour de France in commanding fashion yesterday.
The Briton, without lead-out man Mark Renshaw who was thrown off the Tour for head-butting a rider towards the end of stage 11, surged mercilessly in the finale to outshine New Zealand’s Julian Dean and Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi.
Spain’s Alberto Contador finished safe in the main bunch and retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey with an eight-second advantage over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.
It was Cavendish’s fourth stage victory on this Tour and his 14th overall.
The Isle of Man rider also scored important points as he bids to become the first Briton to win the green jersey for the best sprinter.
“I initially went when Alessandro went with 275 metres to go. I’m happy how easy I jumped on him. He went from the left and the wind came from the left too so it kind of made the job easy,” Cavendish said.
“Mark (Renshaw) of course I miss him a lot. This win basically it’s for him today,” he said.
Cavendish put his troublesome early season behind him when he won the fifth stage and looked so confident in the final stretch on Friday that even his quest for the best sprinter’s green jersey is no longer impossible.
“I’ve got to try to win on the Champs Elysees regardless of the green jersey situation,” he said.
Cavendish has closed to 16 points behind Pettachi, who took the points lead back from Norway’s Thor Hushovd who is now 10 behind the leader.
The Norwegian, the green jersey winner last year, conceded defeat: “It’s over for the green jersey. It’s a disappointment but that’s life. I can’t sprint like Cavendish and Petacchi on this Tour,” he said.
Petacchi, who needs to finish at least fifth if Cavendish wins in Paris to keep his green jersey, said it would be a hard battle.
“It will be a hard sprint on the Champs Elysees especially as I’m tired and suffering from a bit of bronchitis,” he said.
Contador and Schleck both preserved their energy ahead of Saturday’s key 52-km individual time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac.
“Today was a rather relaxed stage even if we had to stay cautious until the finish line,” said the Spaniard, who even found time to offer two of his yellow jerseys to Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, who followed the stage in a Tour car.
“I’d never seen a thing like that before. I went to the Olympics but this is one of the most spectacular events I had the chance to see,” said Diaz, in France to promote the Knight and Day film in which she stars alongside Cruise.