Tour de France: Cavendish closes in on 'Holy Grail'

British sprinter on course to make history by finishing top of points classification
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The Independent Online

Mark Cavendish confirmed yesterday that he has switched Tour objectives and that his aim is now to become Great Britain's first green jersey winner – for finishing top of the points classification – in the history of the Tour de France.

Until now the Columbia-HTC sprinter has said that his overriding interest is in stage wins and making it to the finish, while the points classification, which he is currently leading, is secondary. But after four stage victories in the first two weeks – although not yesterday, which went to breakaway rider Nicki Sorensen – Cavendish has now officially raised the bar and wants to ride into Paris on 26 July wearing green. "I'm eating my words because I always said before I wasn't targeting the points classification," Cavendish said. "But now I am. I've changed my mind. The green jersey is the Holy Grail for sprinters."

Cavendish's announcement came, ironically, after he had failed to take a third straight victory on a stage over terrain which theoretically favoured him as much as the previous two. Victory instead went to Sorensen after he shed his most persistent rival from a group of seven, Frenchman Sylvain Calzati, close to the finish in Vittel.

Cavendish completed the hot, 211km (132 mile) grind across four French departements – the Yonne, the Aube, the Haute-Marne and into the Vosges – in eighth place and at the head of the main pack.

His final dash for the line increased his points total to 200, which is 10 more than his closest rival Thor Hushovd of Norway. Cavendish admitted afterwards that his Columbia-HTC team had opted to sacrifice the chances of a fifth stage win for his overriding goal of reaching Paris, hopefully in green.

"We needed a break," Cavendish said. "We've been pulling all day every flat day since the start of the Tour, that makes for 12 days now, and the guys are only human.

"I want to make it to Paris and I'll need the team to support me to get through the Alps, so it's better for me to save some energy.

"I'm a little bit tired, but in any case, I'm in better condition than I was on stage 12 of last year's Tour."

Prior to the Alps, the peloton returns to the little-known Vosges mountain range in north-east France today for the first time in four years.

Lance Armstrong, for one, does not have happy memories of the narrow, twisting Vosges climbs through dense pine woods.

In 2005, the American lost 40 seconds when his team was ambushed by overall challenger Andreas Klöden and described his day afterwards as a jour de merde.

Armstrong eventually took the Tour that year for a seventh time, but the current race leader, Italian Rinaldo Nocentini, is doubtful about his chances of spending even one more day in yellow.

"I hope I'll be able to hold on, but in any case leading the race has been a nice experience," Nocentini said.

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