Tour de France: Cavendish sparkles to claim treble

Manxman leaves mountains behind with sprint to third win – and a fourth may follow today
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Mark Cavendish provided the sparkle to the dullest day of the Tour so far when he blazed across the finish line for his third stage win of the race. The stage 10 finale in the sleepy town of Issoudun was far from straightforward, with a twisting last kilometre and a nasty uphill kick that split the peloton. When Cavendish's Columbia-HTC troops increased the pace, it was almost inevitable the bunch would shatter and the Briton Bradley Wiggins was caught on the wrong side of the divide. As a result, after riding superbly through the Pyrenees, on the Tour's first flat stage of the second week the Garmin-Slipstream rider has lost 15 seconds and is now seventh overall.

Cavendish, on the other hand, was in his element, sticking like glue to the back wheel of team worker Mark Renshaw before launching off with 250 metres to go. The Manxman finished a good two bike-lengths ahead of his closest rival Thor Hushovd, further confirmation that Cavendish's strength has barely been depleted by the Tour's three days in the Pyrenees. "I was guided through the mountains trying to conserve as much energy for one reason and that one reason was to get more stage wins in the second week," Cavendish said afterwards. "So we weren't going to let that opportunity slip away, whatever happened."

Cavendish took off earlier than usual, a sign of his refusal to become complacent despite taking 16 victories out of 19 this season. "It's sometimes easy to leave it too late and then somebody gets a jump on me like Alessandro Petacchi did in the Tour of Italy," Cavendish said. "So I hit out, because I have this saying 'if in doubt hit out' and I was in position to do that."

Such is his superiority that even at the end of a 70kph (43mph) sprint Cavendish had time to decide which victory salute he preferred. At La Grande Motte last week he crossed the line making a gesture of phoning in honour of the team's new sponsor, the mobile phone company HTC.

This time Cavendish chose to rub his sunglasses – green like the jersey awarded to the top rider in the points competition, which he led in the first week. "It would be nice to wear more green than just my glasses," Cavendish joked and his wish could be granted today if he wins and Hushovd finishes lower than second.

The Briton's victory was the only highpoint to a day which saw the bunch grind along at 30kph for the first three hours. TV cameramen focused on clusters of snails attempting to cross the Tour's roads as an ironic comment on the pace – apparently part of an unspoken protest against a one-day experimental ban on race radios.

The go-slow had no impact on the result, which ended in a bunch sprint, and a Cavendish victory. Today, a fourth stage win, equalling his 2008 Tour total, is just as likely.