Vatan - Saint Fargeau - 192km
An uphill finish it may have been, and a narrow one too, but the power and organisation of the Columbia HTC leadout train has no equal in this year's tour, and it delivered Mark Cavendish a superb fourth stage victory and put him back in the green jersey.
It was a case of 'skip to the end' today, as the main talking point of the first three hours of the stage from Vatan was the almost complete lack of any meaningful action. The peloton let two riders – Johan Van Summeren (Silence-Lotto) and Marcin Sapa (Lampre) – go, let the leash out to three minutes and held them there for the next 100km before starting to reel them in.
Unsurprisingly it was Columbia HTC on the front doing the chasing, hoping to set up another perfect leadout for Cavendish. Cav himself was keeping himself to himself in the pack after L'Equipe had some 'anonymous french riders' branding him a 'racist' during the Tour, though the comments on this story suggest that there's not an awful lot of support for that view. Outside of France, anyway.
In a turnaround from yesterday's go-slow in radio silence, mild conditions and a tailwind helped the riders along at a very decent lick, with a near 50kph average for the first hour, and the pace stayed high throughout the stage which didn't help the break. Egoi Martinez was on hand to take 3rd place over the category 4 Cote d'Allogny and maintain his lead in the KoM standings; Pellizotti went off the front to get 3rd place on the only other climb of the day, the Cat 4 Cote de Perreuse. There were a couple of spills in the pack along the way, with Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hejsedahl (Garmin Slipstream) and Niki Terpstra (Milram) among those finding themselves on the tarmac.
The final kilometre of the stage was certainly not a perfect one for Cavendish: he's unbeatable on a flat finish with Hincapie and Renshaw leading him out, but the narrow, uphill final stages at Saint Fargeau suggested that tactics would come much more into play. Would someone get a break on the pack and sneak away on the slope to the line?
The two escapees were swallowed up with 5km to go, and the pack sorted themselves out for a bunch sprint. Again it was Columbia HTC showing the others how lead out a sprint with 3km to go, but Milram were on the shoulders and Michael Rogers got separated from the rest of the Columbia boys. Tony Martin's massive effort sorted them out though. Hushovd went early and tried to go while Renshaw was still on the leadout but he faded quickly and as Cavendish came round Renshaw it was a straight race between him and Tyler Farrar who'd come round the outside. In the end though it was a familiar story though: Cav was simply too quick. Hushovd's fifth place wasn't enough for him to retain the green jersey, and it goes back on Cavendish's shoulders for tomorrow's stage from Tonnerre to Vittel.
Overall nothing changes, kind of: at the start of the stage the race judges announced that the fifteen-second split that lost Bradley Wiggins and Levi Leipheimer some GC places wasn't a split after all, and they'd decided to give everyone the same time. So it's as you were after stage 9, with Leipheimer in fourth spot and Wiggo in fifth. Cav leads the green jersey standings with 176 points to Hushovd's 169, and Martinex is still out in front in the KoM competition with 79 points.
1) CAVENDISH Mark TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 4h 17' 55" 2) FARRAR Tyler GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 3) HUTAROVICH Yauheni FRANCAISE DES JEUX 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 4) FREIRE Oscar RABOBANK 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 5) HUSHOVD Thor CERVELO TEST TEAM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 6) DUQUE Leonardo COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 7) CIOLEK Gerald TEAM MILRAM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 8) MONDORY Lloyd AG2R-LA MONDIALE 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 9) BONNET William BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00" 10)TRUSSOV Nicolaï TEAM KATUSHA 4h 17' 55" + 00' 00"
1) Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) 30:18:16 2) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 0:00:06 3) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:00:08 4) Levi Leipheimer (Astana) 0:00:39 5) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:00:46 6) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:00:54 7) Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:01:00 8) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:01:24 9) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) 0:01:49 10) Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 0:01:54
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.