Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad took a big step towards securing the green jersey by taking Stage 15 of the Tour de France in Montpellier this afternoon with his closest rivals in the points competition out of contention at the end. Tyler Farrar of Garmin Cervelo was second, with Lampre-ISD's Alessandro Petacchi third. Thomas Voeckler of Europcar goes into tomorrow's second rest day in the maillot jaune ahead of what promises to be an explosive final week that will determine the winner of the 98th edition of the race.
Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert, third in the points competition this morning, attacked off the front of the peloton 3 kilometres from the line, with FDJ’s Anthony Roux and the Vacansoleil-DCM rider Marco Marcato also going with the Belgian as the road kicked upwards.
HTC-Highroad though were awake to the danger and quickly organised themselves to chase the trio down, making the catch with 2 kilometres to go. Other teams, notably Lampre-ISD working for Petacchi and Team Sky looking to get Ben Swift away, were also fighting for position as the line came into sight.
However, Cavendish, who also faced a challenge from Liquigas Cannondale’s Daniel Oss inside the final 150 metres, was not going to be denied on his way to the 19th Tour de France stage victory of his career and one that may well seal the points competition victory he so covets.
Cavendish now has a lead of 37 points over Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas who finished fifth today, with Gilbert a further 34 points behind in third place.
With the race heading towards the Alps, it’s difficult to see the Spaniard overhauling that deficit to prevent the HTC-Highroad rider from following 1984 mountains classification winner Robert Millar to become only the second British rider to win a jersey in the Tour de France.
Today’s 192.5 kilometre stage, which began in Limoux in the Aude valley, famous for its sparkling wine, before heading through the vineyards of the Minervois and Pays de Herault towards the finish in Montpellier, had been widely expected to end in a bunch sprint.
With overcast skies and strong winds giving rise to the prospect of echelons forming in a twisting and turning closing few kilometres, the teams with riders near the top of the GC fought for space at the front of the peloton alongside those of the sprinters to ensure they were in the right place if a split happened.
A little over 20 kilometres from the finish, two men, Mikhail Ignatyev of Katusha and Nikki Terpsra from Rabobank, jumped off the front of a five-man breakaway group that had been kept on a pretty tight leash by the peloton all day, with the sprinters’ teams aware that this stage represented the last chance of a bunch finish before the race hits Paris next Sunday.
Their three fellow escapees, Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis, Mickael Delage of FDJ and Saur Sojasun’s Anthony Delaplace, the youngest rider in the race, were quickly swallowed up by the peloton, as Ignatyev would be 6 kilometres out, but Terpstra managed to hold out until he was swept up as Gilbert made his late move.
This afternoon’s intermediate sprint, approached via an uphill drag, came 46 kilometres from the finish at Montagnac, and of the five breakaway riders it was Delage and Dumoulin who rode ahead to contest it, the FDJ rider prevailing over his compatriot by the narrowest of margins.
Behind, HTC-Highroad led out Cavendish, the Manxman just holding off his two closest rivals in the battle for the green jersey, Rojas and Gilbert, to clinch the 10 points on offer.
Following tomorrow’s rest day, racing resumes on Tuesday with a 163 kilometre stage that heads more or less uphill until the summit of the Category 2 Col de Manse, after which it’s a fast 11.5 kilometre descent into Gap.
The last time Voeckler had the race lead, in 2004, he lost it to Lance Armstrong on the stage immediately after the second rest day. Should Voeckler remain in yellow at the end of Tuesday’s stage, however, he’ll have taken the maillot jaune further than any Frenchman since Laurent Fignon in 1989.
Later on in the week, the big battle for the overall title will be played out in three mountain stages starting on Wednesday, when the race heads into Italy for an overnight stay, with next Saturday’s individual time trial in Grenoble possibly proving decisive.
With Voeckler enjoying more than a 2 minute lead over everyone bar Frank Schleck, and the next six riders only separated by a 2 minute margin themselves, the only thing that can be predicted with any certainty is that Alberto Contador won’t be tucking into a steak tonight.
Tour de France Stage 15 Result 1 CAVENDISH Mark HTC - HIGHROAD 4h 20' 24" 2 FARRAR Tyler GARMIN - CERVELO All at same time 3 PETACCHI Alessandro LAMPRE - ISD 4 OSS Daniel LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 5 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR 6 SWIFT Ben SKY PROCYCLING 7 CIOLEK Gerald QUICK STEP 8 GALLOPIN Tony COFIDIS 9 VENTOSO Francisco MOVISTAR 10 HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 11 ENGOULVENT Jimmy SAUR-SOJASUN 12 DUQUE Leonardo COFIDIS 13 GREIPEL André OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 14 BOZIC Borut VACANSOLEIL-DCM 15 VAITKUS Tomas ASTANA 16 COYOT Arnaud SAUR-SOJASUN 17 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ 18 DEAN Julian GARMIN - CERVELO 19 SABATINI Fabio LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 20 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 15 1 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR 65h 24' 34" 2 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 01' 49" 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 02' 06" 4 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 02' 15" 5 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 03' 16" 6 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 03' 44" 7 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 04' 00" 8 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 04' 01" 9 DANIELSON Tom TEAM GARMIN - CERVELO + 05' 46" 10 DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 06' 18"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.