Tour de France: Mark Cavendish claims Green Jersey with stage victory
An incredible 18th Tour de France stage win in four years saw Great Britain's Mark Cavendish claim the points classification leader's green jersey in Lavaur today.
Winning in cycling's biggest race has become routine for the 26-year-old from the Isle of Man, who finished a surprise second yesterday but today moved to seventh on the all-time list of Tour stage winners.
The HTC-Highroad sprinter has accumulated four wins in 2008, six in 2009 - the last time he donned the maillot vert - five in 2010 and now three in 2011, with 10 stages still to race.
And he revealed the victory came despite having to adjust his shoe in the final 600 metres of the 167.5-kilometre 11th stage from Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur.
Cavendish's foot had accidentally brushed against the front wheel of Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) - a man the Briton described earlier in the Tour as "kamikaze" - undoing the Manxman's buckle. Cavendish said: "There were 10 of us close together and my shoe banged into his front wheel.
"My foot technically came out of the shoe, I had to reach down and slide the ratchet (buckle) and re-do it with 600m to go.
"I was lucky there were no swerves in the peloton and I had Mark Renshaw to fight for position - it could have been quite dangerous.
"But there was nothing intentional, nothing dangerous between Feillu and me today.
"It just so happened it was him - it could have been anyone else in the situation."
Cavendish's success came on the 44th anniversary of Tom Simpson's death and in torrential rain.
The 45 points for the win and nine from the day's intermediate sprint in Gaillac - leading the peloton over the line after the six-man breakaway - saw Cavendish take a 16-point lead in the race for the maillot vert, after seizing control of the competition from Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Cavendish now has 251 points, with Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) second on 235 and Gilbert third on 231 in what appears to be a three-horse race.
He added: "It's incredible to have the green jersey, it's the most beautiful jersey in the world."
The Tour heads for the Pyrenees tomorrow, so Cavendish's next chance will come en route to the Alps on Sunday.
Cavendish is unsure of his chances to hold onto the green jersey, believing there are just two bunch sprints remaining before the Tour concludes in Paris on July 24.
But he is intent on winning in Montpellier and on the Champs Elysees a week later and returning home in the green jersey for the first time.
He said: "There are two more bunch sprints in this year's race, one in Montpellier and the other in Paris, and I want to try to win both of them.
"It's not easy fighting for the green jersey but I'm going to keep going and try to keep hold of it right through to the end.
"There are some more stages when Gilbert can pick up some intermediate points. I'll keep trying but it's tiring."
For the second time on the 2011 Tour, it appeared Cavendish received assistance from compatriot Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in the finishing straight.
Thomas replicated his performance on stage five to Cap Frehel by leading the peloton in the closing stages, before Cavendish's HTC-Highroad colleague Renshaw took over and the Manxman finished off the sprint, with stage 10 winner Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) second and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) third.
Simpson is the only British male to have won the World Championships road race - and someone Cavendish is aiming to emulate in Copenhagen in September.
Thomas will be key to Cavendish's hopes in Denmark, while the duo could also be team-mates in 2012, with the Manxman having reportedly already agreed a move to Team Sky.
Cavendish again admitted Greipel was a deserving winner yesterday, before paying tribute to his current team-mates.
He added: "I can't be down about that (finishing second on stage 10) - he rode pretty perfectly yesterday and I made a small mistake.
"What gets me down is the fact I have guys who ride into the ground for me and it's distressing for me when they do that and I can't finish off the job.
"We were talking about it last night at dinner and I said 'I'll win tomorrow, I'm not feeling like this again'.
"I had to win after the work those other eight guys did today. There was no other option."
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) retained the yellow jersey as the top of the overall classification, but expects to be disposed as race leader on tomorrow's 211km 12th stage from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden.
The Frenchman said: "I honestly expect to lose the jersey tomorrow. "That doesn't mean that I won't fight. We'll see."
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