CHATEAUROUX, France – His dream was within reach and Mark Cavendish didn’t let it get away.
The British sprinter had been frustrated Monday when his chance to win a stage of this year’s Tour de France was thwarted by a breakaway. On Wednesday, he got revenge by recording his first victory in cycling’s premier race.
The Team Columbia rider took the fifth stage in a sprint after a three-rider breakaway that led almost the entire way in the Tour’s longest leg was caught within sight of the finish line.
Stefan Schumacher of Germany retained the leader’s yellow jersey on a day that allowed the sprinters to show their mettle but had no impact on the standings. Contenders for the overall victory all finished safely in the pack.
Cavendish had hoped to win the third stage Monday, but the breakaway held out to the end, denying the sprinters a chance for a victory.
Wednesday’s stage was the last opportunity the sprinters will have for a while. The Tour enters the mountains for the first time in today’s sixth stage, a 121.5-mile trek from Aigurande to Super-Besse that features the moderate climbs of the Massif Central.
Though the ascents are less formidable than the famed – and forthcoming – stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps, they may give the first indication of how the favorites will fare in the next two weeks.
Australian Cadel Evans – second last year – is the highest-placed rider among the prerace favorites. He is in fourth, 41 seconds ahead of Denis Menchov of Russia, 1:04 up on Alejandro Valverde and 1:22 up on Carlos Sastre, both of Spain.