Cavendish wins sprint­ing stage; Con­ta­dor keeps lead

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Naomi Koppel

BORDEAUX, France — Even with­out his most im­por­tant team­mate, Mark Cavendish showed again that few can touch him when it comes to sprint­ing.

The Bri­tish rider cap­tured the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Fri­day, while Al­berto Con­ta­dor of Spain drew closer to vic­tory. Con­ta­dor, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, leads Lux­em­bourg’s Andy Sch­leck by eight sec­onds en­ter­ing to­day’s de­ci­sive time trial, a day be­fore the three-week race ends in Paris.

Al­though Con­ta­dor holds what ap­pears to be a slen­der lead, he is ex­pected to eas­ily out­pace Sch­leck in the 32-mile time trial from Bor-

Con­tin­ued from C1 deaux to Pauil­lac. Last year, he won the time trial late in the Tour and took 1 minute, 45 sec­onds off Sch­leck.

Con­ta­dor, as the leader, also has the ad­van­tage of rid­ing last, al­low­ing him to know how all his ri­vals have done.

To­day is the last stage in which the po­si­tions at the top can change. Sun­day’s fi­nal stage into Paris is tra­di­tion­ally a sprint­ers’ stage and a day­long vic­tory pro­ces­sion for the over­all win­ner.

Lance Arm­strong fin­ished in the pack be­hind the lead­ers and is 23rd over­all.

Cavendish won a stage for the fourth time in this Tour and the 14th time in just three years of com­pet­ing in cy­cling’s premier event.

He surged to the front in the fi­nal cou­ple of hun­dred yards. He gave him­self such a lead that he was able to look be­hind him a cou­ple of times and then cross the line with his fist in the air.

Cavendish won with­out his usual lead­out man and room­mate. Mark Ren­shaw was ex­pelled from the race af­ter the 11th stage for head-butting an op­po­nent, and Cavendish ded­i­cated his lat­est vic­tory to Ren­shaw. He says the Aus­tralian rider made life easy, bring­ing him to the front.

“I’ve missed Mark,” Cavendish said. “I missed him in the Pyre­nees, I missed some- body suf­fer­ing more than me. I missed some­body to laugh about, about how hard it is.”

Sec­ond place went to Ju­lian Dean of New Zealand and third to Alessandro Pe­tac­chi of Italy. Pe­tac­chi took the green jersey given to the lead­ing sprinter from Thor Hushovd of Nor­way.

Hushovd ac­knowl­edged that his fight to re­tain the sprint ti­tle he won last year was over.

“It’s a big dis­ap­point­ment, but I re­al­ized step by step dur­ing the sprints that I’m suf­fer­ing,” said Hushovd, speak­ing af­ter duck­ing into his team bus to take off the green jersey he had been wear­ing. “I don’t have the same level as Cavendish and Pe­tac­chi, and to­day was just an­other sprint that didn’t work out.”

Con­ta­dor in­sists his vic­tory is not cer­tain un­til the time trial is over.

“This is a hard stage that comes af­ter 20 days in the Tour, and this isn’t a race for spe­cial­ists. I think to­mor­row I will re­ally have to fight a lot to win the stage and to de­feat (Sch­leck).”

Sch­leck, for his part, has not given up hope.

“I feel good. I have noth­ing to lose,” he said. “He’s bet­ter, but I’m not bad, too. We’re go­ing to see a bat­tle to­mor­row.”

In the race for third place, Olympic road race cham­pion Sa­muel Sanchez of Spain holds a 21-sec­ond lead over De­nis Men­chov of Rus­sia, the win- Al­berto Con­ta­dor (right), wear­ing the over­all leader’s yel­low jersey, faces his last com­pet­i­tive chal­lenge to­day, on the next-to-last day of the Tour. He leads Andy Sch­leck by eight sec­onds over­all. ner of the 2009 Giro d’Italia.

Among those hop­ing to win to­day is world time-trial cham­pion Fabian Can­cel­lara of Switzer­land, Sch­leck’s team- mate at Saxo Bank.

Can­cel­lara took the race’s pro­logue time trial and held the yel­low jersey for six days early in the race.

lau­rent Rebours

Alessandro Pe­tac­chi, stage win­ner Mark Cavendish, Ju­lian Dean and Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen, from left, fin­ish the 18th stage of the Tour de France.

Christophe Ena

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