Stage 10 Tuesday, July 14 2009: Limoges - Issoudun 194.5 km | Results
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Cavendish Makes it Look Simple
Easy does it! - Mark Cavendish finishes well clear of Green Jersey leader Thor Hushovd at the end of stage 10 (Pete Goding/Press Association Images)
Mark Cavendish completed a hat-trick of wins in the 2009 Tour de France with another convincing demolition of the opposition in a beautifully set up sprint at the end of stage 10, in the town of Issoudun.
The stage has a slightly lazy feel to it as the riders enjoyed a post rest-day roll out in the sun. It all seemed set up for a breakaway but, although one duly formed, it really never built up an defendable advantage. The four riders involved were Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha), Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano), Benoit Vaurengard (Francaise des Jeux) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis). For Ignatiev it was his umpteenth turn off the front in the race, but the Russian didn't seem keen to pull his weight and without uniformity of purpose and commitment, most breaks are doomed. So it proved: although it was well into the last couple of kilometres before they were caught, there was never any real doubt that they would be as Ignatiev's co-escapees seemed more concerned with stopping him than with winning themselves.
In stark contrast to the break's lack of cohesion, Team Columbia HTC were once again united in their determination to give Mark Cavendish the best possible lead out at the finish. None of the other teams have their orchestration and ability to get significant numbers of riders at the front coming into the finish and none of the other teams have a sprinter like Cavendish: it's a potent combination of teamwork and individual brilliance which is producing some of the most convincing sprint finish wins the Tour has ever seen. When Columbia HTC get it right, the photo-finish staff, normally used to splitting riders by tyre-widths and half wheels, can relax and concentrate on sorting out the minor placings.
The finish was another masterclass by the Columbia boys. Coming into the last couple of km, Cav' had a classy trio of team-mates - Tony Martin, George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw - lined up in front of him and his two two biggest rivals for the sprints, Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd, on his wheel. Farrar's and Hushovd's teams have been notable by their absence at the sharp end of this year's sprint finishes: it's almost as it they have acknowledged that their men are best advised simply to follow Cavendish and hope he makes a mistake.
Perhaps they are right, because there were a couple of moments when Cavendish did seem vulnerable. Firstly he almost let Hushovd push him off Renshaw's wheel in the last bend. He quickly shut the door on the big Norwegian, once he'd spotted him. Then, seconds later, came a second moment of opportunity when Cavendish decided Renshaw had done enough and went for the line from perhaps 200 metres out. On a slight uphill, that's a long way to hold off a determined opponent of equal ability. But Hushovd and Farrar are simply not Cavendish's equals and the Manxman was actually pulling further away as he crossed the line celebrating and polishing his very green sunglasses.
At the finish Cavendish was inevitably asked about his interest in the Green Jersey competition, which Hushovd still leads. "I like the colour" he said, referring to his glasses, "I'd like it back" he went on, clearly referring to the jersey. He then added "I needed the rest day but everyone (in Team Columbia HTC) was fresh today. They delivered me perfectly." A somewhat shell-shocked Hushovd admitted "I'm happy with second place", which is pretty much and admission that he believes he can't beat Cavendish in a straight sprint.
It'll be interesting to see how the Green jersey battle now unfolds. If both Cavendish and Hushovd make it to the finish in Paris, the jersey should go to one or the other. Whilst Cavendish seems to prefer to pick up his points only in stage finishes, the Norwegian is happy to target intermediate sprints. Although Cavendish should see off Hushovd in most sprint finishes, Thor is clearly the second best sprinter in the race and will only lose 5 points per stage if he finishes on Cav's wheel each time. He can easily make that up in the intermediate sprints, so Cavendish might just have to start showing an interest in them too if he really wants to wear green on the Paris podium.
Asked how many more wins he might secure in the 2009 Tour, Cavendish said he was targeting four stages and "maybe I could get two more, including the Champs-Élysées!"
On an otherwise quiet day for the rest of the field, Bradley Wiggins and Levi Leipheimer were not quite so happy as Cavendish at the finish. Both lost time in a pile-up on a sharp right-hander 1.2 km out from the line and lost enough time to find themselves slipping down a couple of places in the overall standings. However, neither should be too bothered, with so much hard riding to come.