The Manx Missile showed once again that he is the man to beat when the finish is flat and fast. Following the wheel of trusted first lieutenant Mark Renshaw, Cavendish looked positively unstoppable today as he rode away from rivals Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) to claim the day’s top honors.
The stage win (Cavendish’s third of this tour and the seventh Tour de France stage victory of his career) nudges him 5 points closer to reclaiming the green jersey of the Points Classification leader. He now trails Thor Hushovd in that competition by only six points.
How it unfolded
Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano) attacked four kilometers into today’s stage and was soon joined by Benoït Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne), and Mikhail Ignatiev (Team Katusha).
The quartet (which included three Frenchman looking for a little Bastille Day glory), enjoyed a lead over the main field that grew to as much as 3:20, but the peloton was reluctant to let them get much further up the road and at the 27.5k mark, they began to slowly close the gap.
At 12k to the finish, the break still had 40 seconds on the main field, but Team Columbia-HTC, Quick Step, Rabobank and Team Milram were on the front of the group with visions of a bunch sprint driving the pace. When they dropped the hammer, the gap came down in quick order and executed a perfectly timed catch, reabsorbing the breakaway with 1.6 kilometers to the finish – just in time to set up their leadout trains for the big crush to the line.
Columbia-HTC’s Mark Renshaw executed a picture-perfect leadout for Cavendish, delivering a huge pull to send him charging to the line at full speed. As Renshaw pulled off to the side, Cavendish led out the sprinter’s train with Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar sitting second and third wheel. Neither man could manage to come around the explosive Englishman to contest the sprint.
It was another textbook display of teamwork by the Columbia-HTC team as they maneuvered Cav into position in the final kilometers with lead-out specialist Mark Renshaw nailing the final push.
"Mark Renshaw for me is the man of the day," Cavendish said afterwards. "It was a technical finish, slightly uphill and very twisty, but Mark did a great job for me taking me through those last corners. Really all I had to do was finish off his work.”
The fastest man in the world will have a few more days to make use of Renshaw’s mastery. "There are four more opportunities for bunch sprints, three more this week, and I'll keep on going for the wins. My big objective is to win on the Champs Elysées in Paris on the last day."
Now trailing Thor Hushovd in the Points Classification by only 6 points, the Englishman seemed keen on having another go at the green jersey: “"It's a nice color. I'll certainly try my best to get the green jersey back."
The Race Radio Debate
In an agreement with the International Cycling Union (UCI), race organizers banned the use of race radios (which allow team managers to talk to their riders throughout the race) for today’s stage. Without this communication tool, riders were forced to move back through the peloton to visit the team car in order to gather necessary information about what was happening in the race, discuss strategy, and receive orders from their team director.
The one-day radio ban is part of an experiment by the UCI to assess whether the technology provides an unfair advantage and disrupts the natural chemistry of a road race.
Supporters of the ban claim that the use of radios make the riders little more than automatons – machines sitting on top of bicycles processing information and acting on data in a calculated way. They claim that radios have taken the heart and drama out of the race and penalize smart riders who can read the race and make their own decisions. A few have even gone so far as to say that race radios are on “the same level as doping” and are destroying cycling as we know it.
Cycling great Eddy Merckx, who won 525 races without the aid of a race radio during his career is one notable supporter of banning race radio altogether, claiming that removing race radio will “give back the momentum to the races and spontaneity to the riders.”
Many riders in this year’s Tour, however, oppose the radio ban, citing safety concerns (the radios are often used for team staff to warn their squad about upcoming hazards or for riders to call for help in the event of a crash or mechanical). Other vocal critics (including Lance Armstrong) are baffled by why the UCI would want to take racing “back in time” when cycling is heralded as a sport that is always on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. 14 out of the 20 teams in the Tour this year signed a position stating their official opposition to the ban.
Today’s stage did not seem to be significantly affected by absence of radios, though many commentators did speculate that the riders were less aggressive than they might otherwise have been. Some suspect that the peloton kept today’s stage relatively ho-hum in order to make a statement to the UCI and Tour race organizers. Their message: “Taking our radios away will not give you a more exciting race. Quite the opposite, actually.”
Another radio ban is scheduled for Stage 13, which will take the race back to the mountains. Whether or not organizers will uphold the ban is still to be seen. Opponents are still lobbying hard, but only time will tell whether or not officials will heed the requests or go forward with the second day of their race radio experiment.
Looking ahead to Stage Eleven
Another fast, rolling stage awaits the peloton tomorrow as the race departs from the tiny town of Vatan (population 2000) and heads 192 kilometers to Saint-Fargeau. The riders will have their race radios back, so expect things to be a little more “spirited” as they get down to business with Team Director’s once again barking orders into their ears.
This will be an important day for the sprinters and you can expect Columbia-HTC to put in another big team effort to put Cavendish in position to contest a sprint finish. If the Englishman can win again, he has a shot at reclaiming the green jersey from Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd. (But it Hushovd finishes second, as we saw in today’s stage, Cavendish will still trail the big Norwegian by a single point.)
Both men will be desperate to deliver a big performance tomorrow (and let’s not forget that Garmin-Slipstream’s Tyler Farrar is still chomping at the bit to get a sprint victory of his own) so finish line fireworks should be at an all-time high.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that a breakaway could stick – a result that would be highly disappointing for the sprinters, who need to take advantage of every remaining flat stage in their bids for stage wins and green jersey glory.
Stage 10 Results: Top Five Individuals
1. CAVENDISH Mark TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 4h 46' 43"
2. HUSHOVD Thor CERVELO TEST TEAM + 00' 00"
3. FARRAR Tyler GARMIN – SLIPSTREAM + 00' 00"
4. DUQUE Leonardo COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 00' 00"
5. ROJAS Jose Joaquin CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 00' 00"
Top Ten Individual Standings (GC) after Stage 10
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R-LA MONDIALE 39h 11' 04"
2. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance ASTANA + 00' 08"
4. KLÖDEN Andréas ASTANA + 00' 54"
5. LEIPHEIMER Levi ASTANA + 00' 54"
6. MARTIN Tony TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC + 01' 00"
7. WIGGINS Bradley GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 01' 01"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy SAXO BANK + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS + 01' 54"
Columbia-HTC Individual Standings after Stage 10
6. MARTIN Tony 135. CAVENDISH Mark
13. MAXIME Monfort 136. GRABSCH Bert
19. KIRCHEN Kim 154. EISEL Bernhard
28. HINCAPIE George 156. RENSHAW Mark
117. ROGERS Michael