Cycling: Cavendish breaks new ground

Manxman shines on climb for record-breaking stage win

Mark Cavendish made yet another chunk of British cycling history his own yesterday when he secured his fifth stage victory of this year's Tour in the most unexpected of circumstances.

Cavendish's win was the ninth of his career, making him the Briton with the most ever Tour stage victories: an amazing achievement for any rider, but for one who is only 24, even more special.

It was appropriate that Cavendish should ride into the history books with a victory in an exceptionally complicated sprint, one in which Cavendish's ability to get over the climbs was as important as his ability to ride at 70kph in the final metres.

The 14km ascent of L'Escrutinet close to the finish of Aubenas looked like an insurmountable barrier for the Manxman, and perhaps even as recently as last year's Tour, it would have been. But even while great clumps of the peloton threw in the towel, sat up and rode in at their own pace, Cavendish stayed stubbornly with the first 10 or 15 riders.

It could be argued that the smooth, steady climb on broad, well-surfaced roads deep in the Ardeche region, rather than being a steeper, shorter ascent, played in Cavendish's favour .

Yet the way in which Cavendish gritted his teeth and tenaciously hung on right to the summit in the first group of 40 riders, proved that even with four wins in the bag, the Manxman remains as hungry for victories as he was in Monaco three weeks ago.

"I didn't know if I'd get over the climb, but I said to the guys this morning let's give it a go," Cavendish said.

"It doesn't necessarily mean I go better because I've got three guys around me, but I don't give up so easily, either."

But on the descent to Aubenas yet more complications kicked in for the Manxman. Cavendish only had three team-mates rather than his usual six or seven to guide him through to his final dash for the finish which – as if he did not have enough already on his plate – was uphill.

But it is testament to just how far ahead Cavendish is in the game that he still managed to win, and a credit to his team's versatility that even when forced to improvise radically like yesterday, they are still not caught out.

Cavendish's team-mates George Hincapie – despite being injured – and Maxime Monfort pulled back a dangerous late attack by world champion Alessandro Ballan, then a third, Tony Martin brought the Manxman up to speed just where the steep little rise to the finish flattened slightly.

At long last Cavendish was back in his element and he executed his final sprint with clinical brilliance.

However, Cavendish's tears as he celebrated were a sure sign of the huge effort that had gone into winning, and he said later it had been one of the most difficult victories of his career.

The sprinters' final acceleration split what remained of the peloton with Bradley Wiggins caught on the wrong side of the divide. The Londoner lost four seconds to Lance Armstrong, his rival for third place on the podium, but remains in fourth.

Still 25 points short of re-taking the green jersey from Thor Hushovd, Cavendish was adamant he will not be fighting to regain it on the Champs Elysées on Sunday.

Cavendish, who had criticised Hushovd earlier in the week for launching a protest that saw him disqualified from a stage, heaped praise on the Norwegian for his lone breakaway during the Alps that gained 12 points.

"Nobody deserves the green jersey more than him," Cavendish said. "For now I'm just going to concentrate on stage wins and finishing in Paris" – and in the process, pulverising one British record after another.

Tour de France: Race leaders

*Race leader: Alberto Contador (Sp), Astana

*Points leader: Thor Hushovd (Nor), Cervélo

*Leading climber: Franco Pellizotti (It), Liquigas

*Young rider: Andy Schleck (Lux), Saxo Bank

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