British sprint king Mark Cavendish produced a stunning finish to claim victory on the 18th stage of the Tour de France, a 226 km ride between Blagnac and Brive-La-Gaillarde Friday. Sky teammate and compatriot Bradley Wiggins came over the finish line seconds later with his 2:05 overall lead on British teammate Chris Froome intact.
Cavendish, who won stage two to take his tally to 21, has had to shelve his ambitions in the race this year as Sky took aim at overall victory. And he admitted it took some persuasion to convince his team bosses he could grab his 22nd stage win.
"It's incredible. We came here with the aim of winning the yellow jersey, and we're first and second on GC (general classification)," said Cavendish. "You can't ask for anything more than that. It did put my sprint chances on the back foot. But today I said, 'please just give me a chance in the sprint'. And then Brad jumped in and said, 'yes, we'll go for the sprint, we'll lead it out'"
Wiggins, who is set to become Britain's first winner of the world's biggest bike race on Sunday, played a starring role for his Sky teammate in what was a technical but thrilling finale into Brive. A number of attacks were launched in the closing kilometers but with the gap coming down steadily the sprinters' teams started to pull at the front in anticipation of a possible bunch finish. Wiggins pulled at the front for Cavendish in the closing 1.5 km before peeling off and letting Norwegian teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen take over the job of leading the chase.
In the closing 400 meters Irishman Nicolas Roche, seeing the peloton closing in, made a bid for victory with Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez sticking on his wheel. But with the line in sight Cavendish emerged from nowhere and dug deep to deliver a trademark turn of speed that handed him his second stage win of the race and 22nd of his career. Sanchez and Roche, who would eventually finish fourth and fifth, could only gesture in disbelief. Australia's Matt Goss, of Orica-GreenEdge, was second just ahead of Slovakian Peter Sagan of Liquigas.
Tour de France Stage 18
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR/SKY) 4:54:12
2. Matthew Goss (AUS/GEC) @ s.t.
3. Peter Sagan (SVK/LIQ)
4. Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP/RAB)
5. Nicolas Roche (EIR/ALM)
6. Tyler Farrar (USA/GRM)
7. Borut Bozic (SLO/AST)
8. Sebastien Hinault (FRA/ALM)
9. Daryl Impey (RSA/GEC)
10. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA/COF)
General Classification After Stage 18
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) 83:22:18
2. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) @ 2:05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) @ 2:41
4. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LTB) @ 5:53
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) @ 8:30
6. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ 9:57
7. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/RSH) @ 10:11
8. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) @ 10:17
9. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/AST) @ 11:00
10. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) @ 11:46