Tour Watch - Stage 19

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Stage 19 Friday, July 24 2009: Bourgoin-Jallieu - Aubenas 178 km | Results

Stage Win Number 5 for Cav

Mark Cavendish took his fifth stage victory of the 09 Tour in a bunch sprint, narrowly beating arch rival Thor Hushovd.

It was a stage which, on paper, threatened to be a dull transitional day between the high drama of the Time Trial and the even higher drama of Mt. Ventoux. However nothing could be further from the truth, with breaks going right from the off, and real cliffhanger finish.

Just a few kilometres into the stage Thierry Hupond (Skil Shimano) got away but was caught on an early 4th category climb. Then a more significant move developed, as a group of over 20 riders, including David Millar and Cadel Evans, leapt off the front and rapidly established a lead which at one point grew to 2:45.

The group dangled off the front for most of the afternoon before things got organised in the main group and the chase, instigated by Rabobank, got underway. Just as the chasers got organised, things fell into disarray in the breakaway group - five riders sensed the disintegration and went clear: Popovych, Millar, Arrieta, Gutierrez and Duque going up the road as the remainder began to fall back into the clutches of the main field. However it wasn't to last and eventually everything was back together.

In a classic sucker-punch, Duque, who'd been in the breakaway group, went away and claimed the intermediate sprint before the race headed towards its pivotal moment, the 14km high speed climb of the 2nd category Col d'Escrinet.

As the riders hit the climb, the group splintered, the pace and the temperature beginning to tell. All the bit hitters came to the fore, both in terms of the General Classification and the sprint. Cavendish, Friere and Hushovd were conspicuous, as was World Road Champion Alessandro Ballan.

BBOX rider Lefevre then went away on his own and was soon joined by Ballan of Lampre, who'd sensed the merest whiff of a stage victory. The Italian and the Frenchman worked together and maintained a small but steady gap over charging main field. Ballan and Lefevre held on over the top of the climb, but only 11 seconds ahead of the chasing group.

As the bunch crested the climb, demon descender Sanchez tried to use his skills to bridge to Ballan and Lefevre, but right on cue the rain came down on the descent and he decided to live to fight another day and backed off. Team Colombia HTC came to the fore of the main group, ensuring that their man Cavendish was well placed and out of trouble as the race headed towards the finishing line. Hushovd was, as ever, in close attendance.

Still out in front, Ballan and Lefevre gritted their teeth and hung on just a few seconds ahead of the bunch. Then more drama as the bunch approached a roundabout. Oscar Friere put paid to any chances of stage victory by misjudging the turn and had to cut straight across the roundabout and amazingly, kept it wheels down.

With horrible inevitability, with less than 1km to go, the valiant Ballan and Lefevre were overwhelmed by the irrepressible force of the bunch and all of a sudden it was game-on for the sprinters. Cavendish was without his usual leadout train with only one teammate to set him up for the sprint. Hushovd charged and initially gained ground and looked like he might be in with a shout. However, Cav's ability to sprint faster and longer once again proved too much, and he took a well-deserved fifth stage win.

Whilst it was all change on the road, Stage 19 did little to shake up the GC, with all of the main contenders finishing in the main group, keeping their powder dry for the assault on Ventoux. Of the top 5, only Armstrong made a marginal gain, the right side of a 4 second split in the main field.

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