Tour de France 2015: Mark Cavendish's stunning sprint stops the rot as Chris Froome reclaims yellow

Victory No 26 in the Tour also moves Cavendish into third place in the all-time ranking of stage winners in the race

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The Independent Online

It has been a far longer wait than he would have liked, but after two years without a Tour de France win c Cavendish was back on top in cycling’s flagship event, notching up his 26th stage victory – and his first of the 2015 Tour.

On a memorable day for British cycling, Chris Froome, already the de facto leader of the Tour after Germany’s Tony Martin abandoned with a broken collarbone on Thursday evening, once more donned the yellow jersey for real – as he had done on stage three – after crossing the line safely in the main pack.

Whilst there is no way of predicting how long Froome’s reign at the top of the classification will last – today he faces one key challenge on the Mûr-de-Bretagne summit finish and tomorrow another in the team time trial – for Cavendish, this victory represents a landmark of major proportions.

After crashing out of the Tour on the first stage in 2014, Cavendish had already missed the mark in this year’s race on stages two and five. In other sprinters that might be seen as normal, but for a rider with a strike-rate as high as the Etixx-Quick Step fastman, it intensified a year-long storm of speculation that the Briton’s star was beginning to fade.

 

In just 200 metres in a twisting, technical finale at Fougeres, though, Cavendish set the record straight. After André Greipel, already a double stage winner, opened up the throttle in the closing metres, Cavendish accelerated away far later than he has done previously in this Tour.

His tactic paid off perfectly as he tore through the inside apex of a gently curving right hand bend to claim the 134th win of his career and 44th stage victory in one of cycling’s three Grand Tours – of Italy, Spain, and France.

“Today was about not being impatient. I almost left it too long,” he said. “I was perfect on Greipel, but [Alexander Kristoff’s leadout man Jacopo] Guarnieri came backwards. I had to avoid him. I almost panicked about how close we were to the line. If André had moved towards the barrier I might not have won.”

Victory No 26 in the Tour also moves Cavendish into third place in the all-time ranking of stage winners in the race, behind Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx. But what mattered more yesterday was Cavendish stopping the rot. “It’s been the longest run without a win for me in the Tour de France,” Cavendish said. “To get back to winning ways is certainly nice.”

Time was also running out for Cavendish to do so, given just two more stages at most seem likely to be decided in a bunch sprint, at Valence and in Paris. Such a dearth of opportunities means it is almost impossible for Cavendish to fight for the green jersey of points competition leader, with the Briton making a withering observation that “there are always going to be stages for Peter Sagan. It looks like another green jersey for him this year, doesn’t it?”

Already the Tour leader for one day earlier this week, Froome, meanwhile, inherited the yellow jersey after the race’s quietest day for crashes and injuries since it left Utrecht a week ago.

Cycling regulations dictated Martin, despite abandoning overnight with injuries, technically remained the race leader until stage seven had started, meaning Froome did not start the day clad in the maillot jaune, only receiving it when the day’s racing was over.

“Out of respect for Tony I wouldn’t want to be wearing it in any case,” Froome said outside the Sky bus ahead of the stage. From today onwards, the Briton will be much less willing to relinquish yellow.

The French newspaper L’Equipe has reported that the Italian rider Luca Paolini of Katusha has tested positive for cocaine.

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