Mark Cavendish (Sky) showed his scintillating speed with a breathtaking victory in stage 18 of the Tour de France into Brive.
He rocketed past the last remnants of a late breakaway, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), in the final 150 metres after starting his sprint early.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) and green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished second and third, ten bike lengths back after a thrilling final ten kilometres of breakaway versus bunch cat-and-mouse.
It took seventy kilometres into the stage for the escape to go. It consisted of sixteen men, including David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana).
Dog day for unlucky four
The gap was kept on a tight lead – unlike an errant four-legged roadside spectator.
A dog ran into the road 100 kilometres from the finish, causing Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Arthur Vichot (FDJ) to crash.
Despite the size of the group, the bunch ate into their lead gradually. Onto the final climb, the fourth-category Cote de Lussac-sur-Couze, Vinokourov, Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) forced themselves away and over the top.
Roche and Sanchez bridged across from the bunch with a few others and forced the issue in the closing kilometres on rain-damp roads.
Cav clinches it
But they couldn’t hold off a chase from the bunch, aided by a fierce turn on the front by Bradley Wiggins. He handed it over to Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish, whose long sprint was irresistible and left his rivals standing.
That’s two stage wins for Cavendish, who has taken a background role in Sky’s yellow jersey-centric Tour, and five for Great Britain so far.
The world champion will be hoping to oblige similarly in eight days time on The Mall in the Olympic road race. Today showed that Cavendish can handle a sharpish climb without sacrificing his speed.
But first, he’ll be hunting a fourth consecutive final stage win on the Champs Elysees in two days time.
Only tomorrow’s 53.5-kilometre time-trial from Bonneval to Chartres and a short final stage into Paris stands between Bradley Wiggins and Tour de France victory.
Tour de France 2012 stage 18, Blagnac-Brive-la-Gaillarde, 222.5km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Sky 4-54-12
2. Matt Goss (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
4. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Rabobank
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale
6. Tyler Farrar (Usa) Garmiin-Sharp
7. Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil-DCM
8. Sebastien Hinault (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
9. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEdge
10. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis all same time
Overall classification after stage 18
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky in 83-22-18
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 2-05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 2-41
4. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 5-53
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 8-30
6. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 9-57
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 10-11
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 10-17
9. Janez Brajokovic (Slo) Astana at 11-00
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 11-46
Philippe Gilbert confronts owner of a dog that caused a crash in the peloton by running into the road
Janez Brajkovic crashes
David Millar at the front of the escape group
Could it be? We are amused by Wiggo’s achievements
Bradley Wiggins edges closer to Paris
Mark Cavendish takes his 22nd Tour stage win
Tour de France 2012: Latest news
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage 17: Wiggins step closer to Paris as Valverde wins stage
Stage 16: Voeckler the Pyrenean king as he wins in Bagneres de Luchon
Stage 15: Fedrigo wins, day off for peloton
Stage 14: Sanchez solos to Foix victory to save Rabobank’s Tour
Stage 13: Greipel survives climb and crosswinds to win third Tour stage
Stage 12: Millar wins Tour stage nine years from his last
Stage 11: Wiggins strengthens Tour lead as Evans slips back
Stage 10: Voeckler wins and saves his Tour
Stage nine: Wiggins destroys opposition in Besancon TT
Stage eight: Pinot solos to Tour win as Wiggins fights off attacks
Stage seven: Wiggins takes yellow as Froome wins stage
Stage six: Sagan wins third Tour stage
Stage five: Greipel wins again as Cavendish fades
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
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