Mark Cavendish showed that he has survived this year’s Tour de France with his form intact with a stunning win in the 18th stage into Brive-la-Gaillarde
Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins is now just two stages away from winning the 2012 Tour de France after safely negotiating the penultimate road stage of this year's event. With Saturday's individual Time Trial and Sunday's final stage into Paris to come, the race is truly into the home straight.
But, if you thought Wiggins would be taking it easy in the peloton, you were in for a surprise as he played a decisive role in pulling back a tenacious break and then launching Mark Cavendish to the win.
On a day of quick riding, aided by a tail wind, a sizeable break was gradually pulled in during the last 50km or so. The terrain of the stage, which cut an almost straight line northwards through southern central France was far from flat, especially in those closing kilometres.
The Sky team continued to reveal their ambition working very hard in the last 25km to get Mark Cavendish over the climbs whilst also closing down the break, which included Alexandre Vinokourov, Adam Hansen, Luca Pauline and Nicolas Roche.
Wiggins came to the front at 1.5 kilometres to go, ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen with Cavendish glued to the Norwegian’s wheel.
The other sprinters, including Sagan and Goss were also in the mix going into the final 500m, but Cavendish went early and worked his way through the fragments of the break, who were sprinting like sleepwalkers. Cavendish went through them with an alacrity that spoke volumes about up the pent up frustration he must have been feeling after the quietest Tour of his career.
After the stage, Cavendish was asked whether he'd found it difficult taking a back seat whilst Wiggins' ambitions took priority.
"Physically it’s been hard. Mentally, it wasn’t hard because we had the yellow jersey. I was full of pride to be part of that."
"We came here with the goal of winning the yellow jersey and we're first and second on GC.
"Spirits are high. To be part of a team that's going to win the Tour de France is a massive honour.
"It did put my sprint chances on the back foot. Even today on the bus Sean wanted an easy day.
"I was like 'please just give me a chance in the sprint'. Brad jumped in and said 'we'll go for a sprint, we'll lead it out'."
Cavendish did admit that it had been frustrating, though ultimately fulfilling: "I’m a sprinter – it’s like putting Wayne Rooney in defence. It’s been an emotional three weeks but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it."
Stage 18 Results
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 4:54:12
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
4 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
5 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
6 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp
7 Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
8 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
10 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
General classification after stage 18
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 83:22:18
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:41
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:53
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:08:30
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:09:57
7 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:10:11
8 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:10:17
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:11:00
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:11:46