Cavendish finds an extra gear


Cycling:A sensational sprint finish saw Mark Cavendish claim the 22nd Tour de France stage success of his career in Brive-la-Gaillarde today, denying Nicolas Roche a first ever stage win as the Irish rider was caught within sight of the line by the sprinters.

Cavendish equalled Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade in fourth place in the all-time rankings of Tour stage winners. Bradley Wiggins, who retained a lead of two minutes five seconds at the top of the overall rankings as he seems ever more certain of becoming the first British winner of the Tour, played his part in leading Cavendish out at the end of the 222.5-kilometre route from Blagnac.

But the world champion had to use all his skill to negotiate his way around Roche and Luis-Leon Sanchez, who were making a last-ditch bid to avoid a sprint finish, and power to a stunning triumph.

Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was second, with points classification leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) third. Sanchez (Rabobank) was fourth, with Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) fifth.

Cavendish claimed his first Tour stage success for Team Sky on stage two to take his tally to 21, but had been at Wiggins’ service until today’s penultimate road stage. The Manxman will have another opportunity in Sunday’s final stage, usually a processional finish, until the Champs-Elysees, where the sprinters contest the stage win.

Cavendish is unbeaten on Paris’ most famous boulevard, having won in 2009, 2010 and 2011 in the three Tours he has completed. Wiggins has vowed to work for Cavendish in the French capital, but began to pay back his friend and team-mate’s loyalty with a supreme showing in Brive.

The 32-year-old was seen punching the air in delight behind Cavendish as the Manxman celebrated the latest win of his prolific career. Cavendish won four stages in 2008, six in 2009, five in 2010 and five last year.

Wiggins now faces two further days’ racing to become the first Briton to claim the yellow jersey on a permanent basis. Wiggins retained his advantage over Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 2mins 41secs behind in third.

Wiggins is expected to enhance his hold on the maillot jaune in tomorrow’s 53.5km time-trial to Chartres.

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