Mark Cavendish claimed his third victory of the 2021 Tour de France as he took full advantage of a superb lead-out by his Deceuninck - Quick Step teammates on stage 10.
The Briton was the fastest in the sprint to the line in Valence, with the 36-year-old recording his 33rd triumph in the race, just one behind the record of 34 set by Eddy Merckx.
A windy and at times wet day threatened to derail Cavendish's attempt to win once more, Team BikeExchange especially trying to distance the Isle of Man rider on a climb with 40km to go.
But Cavendish remained in the peloton and in the final few kilometres was the benefit of a text book lead-out, with Davide Ballerini and Michael Morkov in charge of proceedings right up until the final 150m when Cavendish went it alone.
He was able to fend off the challenge of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to move to within one win of equalling Merckx's record.
The victory means that Cavendish also extends his lead in the points classification as he looks to win the green jersey for only the second time in his illustrious career.
Despite brief echelons, Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) was able to maintain his 2:01 advantage to Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) in the general classification, with no riders losing time.
How it unfolded
Rested after the Tour’s first day without racing, the peloton set off from Albertville, the small town at the foot of a host of ski resorts in the French Alps.
Within seven kilometres, the day’s breakaway had formed, with Tosh van der Sande of Lotto-Soudal and Hugo Houle of Astana-Premier Tech teaming up and quickly building an advantage that went out to near six minutes before it was stabilised around four minutes.
The intermediate sprint was won by Van der Sande, and back in the bunch it was Sonny Colbrelli – who finished third on Sunday’s brutal mountain stage – who won the sprint for the maximum 15 points, with Michael Matthews taking 13. Cavendish, however, didn’t contest the sprint.
The green jersey holder has seen his lead in the points classification slowly chipped away at recent mountain stages and after the intermediate sprint held just a 25 point advantage to Matthews and 32 to Colbrelli.
A crash took out Richie Porte of Ineos Grenadiers and most of Jumbo-Visma, with a nervous peloton looking uncomfortably towards the darkened sky above.
At an uncategorised climb 40km from the line, Van der Sande attacked Houle with their gap hovering around 40 seconds, while in the peloton Team BikeExchange set a ferocious pace in their attempt to drop Cavendish.
Working on behalf of Matthews, the Australian team looked to be succeeding in their plan, but Cavendish was eventually able to make it over the ascent and soon after his Deceuninck – Quick Step team were the ones driving the pace with the breakaway long since caught.
Into the final 20km and crosswinds threatened to cause echelons, with race leader Pogačar producing a superb bit of riding to bridge a small gap that had narrowly separated him from a move.
Ineos Grenadiers were working intently for Richard Carapaz to try and force a split, but, aside from some riders who sat up, the peloton remained as one as they prepared for the sprint.
Cavendish was given another strong lead-out from his team, Kasper Asgreen, Davide Ballerini and Michael Morkov lining up in perfect formation ahead of Cavendish with 1.5km remaining.
Matthews’ team came up on the right as they passed the flamme rouge, but it was the Belgian team that remained out front as they negotiated the final kilometre.
Ballerini remained at the head of the sprint with 300m to go, Morkov then taking over before Cavendish flew out of the Dane’s wheels.
Nacer Bouhanni was to the right of the Manxman but was unable to come round him, with Wout van Aert then coming to the left to try and edge past Cavendish.
But the 2011 world champion maintained his speed and was able to cross the line by half-a-length, with Van Aert in second and Philipsen in third.
The result means that despite not contesting the intermediate sprint during the stage, Cavendish increases his lead in the points classification, moving onto 218 points.
Stage 11 sees a return to the mountains as the peloton tackle a double ascent of the iconic Mont Ventoux.
Results: Stage 10 of the 2021 Tour de France: Albertville > Valence, 190.7km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 4-14-07
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma
3. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkéa-Samsic
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange
6. Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
7. André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation
8. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Anthony Turgis (Fra) Team TotalEnergies
10. Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM, all at same time.
General classification after stage 10
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 38-25-17
2. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, at 2-01
3. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education-Nippo, at 5-18
4. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, at 5-32
5. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 5-33
6. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 5-47
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5-58
8. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech, at 6-12
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 7-02
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 7-22
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