Cavendish sprints to glory on Stage 19 taking the win, but with Thor Hushovd right on his wheel. It should have been a stage for the break, it turned out to be one for the sprinters. Hushovd's second place means that the green jersey is still tantalisingly out of reach – in fact it was just behind him – but with this win a point had been made.
On a slight uphill finish it became a straight battle of high cadence versus raw power between Cavendish and Thor Hushovd. With Hushovd and Ciolek battling to get on his wheel the Manx Missile went early – it seemed suicidally so… but it put Cavendish in straight race for the line and he will not be denied.
All the action at the front caused a slight split in the main field on the final run-in, with one group finishing 4 seconds ahead of the other. Lance Armstrong was in that group - Bradley Wiggins and Andy Schleck weren't. Given that tomorrow the Ventoux awaits, seconds are unlikely to matter much in the final shakedown for a place on the podium.
After the fireworks of the Alps and the individual time trial around Annecy, and preceding Saturday's ascent of the Ventoux, the 178km stage from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas always looked like it would be one where the main GC boys would watch each others' wheels. A lumpy affair with a couple of small climbs early and then a flattish run to a 2nd cat climb and a fast downhill finish.
One for the break and also the last real opportunity for the teams without a stage win to get one, so a fairly large early break was the expected play. It duly formed, though Francaise des Jeux, Milram and Rabobank – all without a win so far – were no doubt kicking themselves that they missed it.
With 50km completed the lead group had stabilised at 20 riders, and the gap at a couple of minutes; 20km further down the road at the feed station it was closer to a three minute advantage. It was telling of Cadel Evans' poor showing this year that the big teams were happy to let him go with the escapees. He started 38 minutes off the pace in 29th place, a far cry from his podium finish just a year ago.
That group in full: Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Yaroslav Popovych (Astana), Kim Kirchen (Columbia), David Millar (Garmin), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Luis Leon Sanchez, Jose Ivan Gutierrez and David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Jose Luis Arrieta, Chritophe Riblon and Nicolas Roche (AG2R), Carlos Barredo and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Jonathan Hivert (Skil-Shimano), Nicolai Trussov and Styn Vandenbergh (Katusha), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).
A big group with no contenders for the GC - it should have gone off down the road and become effectively a race within a race. That's not the way it turned out, which is why we all love bike racing. The big groups never really made progress partly due to the fact that some of the teams were left behind, with Rabobank and MIlram making sure that the pace was kept high.
Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) tried to grab himself some glory by going out on his own, but he wasn't on his own for long Jose Luis Arrieta followed the Colombian, then Yaroslav Popovych, Jose Ivan Gutierrez also jumped across, as did David Millar.
They needn't have bothered because the sprint teams were not to be denied. Just before the start of the final category 2 Col de l'Escrinet they made the catch, Laurent Lefevre (BBox) had a dig, but the field seemed content to leave him dangling 15 seconds off the front.
What a strange stage this was turning out to be. The finish was narrow – the organisers obviously expected a win on the break, and what had they got churning up the slopes of the Col de l'Escrinet? The combined sprint trains of Columbia, Cervelo and Rabobank.
Things seemed to be reverting to script when World Champion Allesandro Ballan (Lampre) jumped across to join Lefevre. Mindful of the tight finish, and the potential for mishap on the descent to it , the big fish were all at the front keeping out of trouble… with them was Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd, glued to his wheel. Up ahead though, Ballan and Lefevre were pulling away by seconds. If they could get into town the tricky nature of the final approach might play into their favour and against the sprinters… a nice finishing strait.
With four 4Km to go they had eight seconds but Columbia and Milram were tearing after them. Ballan was showing why he is the world champ – still out front with 2km to go agonisingly close… but the catch was made. All the sprinters were there as they sped under the Flame Rouge.
Top 10 2009 Tour de France Stage 19
1) Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - HTC0 3:50:35
2) Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team)
3) Gerald Ciolek (Team Milram0
4) Greg Van Avermaet (Silence - Lotto)
5) Oscar Freire Gomez (Rabobank)
6) Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step)
7) Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano)
8) Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale)
9) Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux)
10) Martijn Maaskant (Garmin - Slipstream)
General Classification after Stage 19
1) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 77:06:18
2) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) 0:04:11
3) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:05:21
4) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:05:36
5) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:05:38
6) Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) 0:05:59
7) Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 0:07:15
8) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:10:08
9) Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) 0:12:37
10) Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Euskaltel - Euskadi) 0:12:38
Top 10 Points Classification after Stage 19
1) Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) 260 pts
2) Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - HTC) 235
3) Gerald Ciolek (Team Milram) 148
4) Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse d'Epargne) 126
5) Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 122
6) Oscar Freire Gomez (Rabobank) 119
7) Tyler Farrar (Garmin - Slipstream) 110
8) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 96
9) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 88
10) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 85
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