By Sophie Smith
Pure sprinters are now set to step out of the limelight at the Tour de France until the finale in Paris where Mark Cavendish will look to equal Marcel Kittel's treble after winning stage 13 today.
Cavendish has won on the Champs-Élysées the past four consecutive occasions but the Tour has seen a much more even sprint competition this season.
The Manxman's Omega Pharma-Quick Step team today took advantage of crosswinds, which blew the race to pieces, and put the hammer down as Kittel (Argos-Shimano) was managing a mechanical.
"We tried to put Kittel on the back foot, we didn't mean to break him," Cavendish said after his 25th career stage victory and second of the 100th edition.
Kittel had no chance of coming back in a tale that severely deviated from the traditional flat stage script.
Most thought the stage would again be a battle between the pure sprinters. But tactics and conditions saw Cavendish and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) contest a small group finish with Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) leading the second group home. Kittel came in just over 10 minutes back.
Master tactician Michael Rogers knows how to manipulate a race in crosswinds and has done so for Cavendish before at former team Highroad. He is now racing for Alberto Contador at Saxo-Tinkoff and, with Daniele Bennati, split the front of the race with some 30km remaining in a move that saw leader Chris Froome (Sky) lose time. Cavendish said he didn't anticipate the action from Rogers but was in a position to take advantage.
"Saxo were very, very strong in the final. It was really just those guys riding and gave us a free ride to the finish," Cavendish said.
"I think not just for the sprint teams but for the GC teams it was a very, very interesting day. What technically should have been a standard day bunch sprint was a very, very good day of racing."
Argos-Shimano has options for the immediate undulating stages and before the peloton hits the high mountains in the third week where all the fast-men will look for team support to survive.
But Paris is at least at the back of pilot Koen de Kort's mind with his outfit proving it and Kittel, in his second Tour appearance, is capable of a bookend campaign.
"It comes down to details," de Kort said.
"There's not one sprinter better than the others. That's the difference. They are so close in their capabilities. It's exciting there's three really good sprinters and you've got Sagan, who has got slight different capabilities but he's still in the mix."
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