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TdF’09 St.11: You Will Never Guess
Race Report: The Tour takes a second consecutive day to rest on its laurels and let the sprinters have their fun. The nearly 200 kilometer stage isn’t flat, but with two Category 4 climbs and no real wind to speak of, you can be sure there’s a bunch sprint that needs sprinting.

It only took two editions of the Tour de France for Mark Cavendish to equal Barry Hoban’s long-standing British Tour de France stage mark of 8 wins – it took the hard-man Hoban almost a decade to pull off the tally. Now, if Cavendish can just keep it up for another 26, he can catch up with Eddy Merckx.

Count em: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 wins in less than two years. Not bad.

I’ve said it, we’ve all said it, Scott McGrory said it this morning on PEZ: there isn’t a soul on the planet faster than Mark Cavendish inside the final 200 meters of a bike race. He proved that again, for the umpteenth time, today in the uphill sprint in Saint-Fargeau.

Farrar gave Cavendish a good run today, but good run or not, the win was still Cav’s.

However, as compared to the final kilometers of many of Cavendish’s sprints of late, this one was actually thrilling. Hushovd went first, Farrar went far left, Cavendish ducked inside, and most importantly – Farrar was actually close. This was no resigned sit on Cav’s wheel to take 2nd sprint – Farrar nearly made it past Cavendish. Sure, Cav took another win, and in this string of wins he has proven dominant, but this was the first sprint so far where it was reasonable to think another rider actually had a chance. There had been murmurs that this might not be an ideal finish for Cavendish due to the uphill nature of the sprint, but alas, he showed them. Cavendish took the best line through the slight right-hand bend inside the final 200 meters, pedaled really hard, and won again.

Back To The Beginning
Kurt-Asle Arvesen wasn’t able to continue today due to a double fracture of his collarbone. Without Arvesen, that left 171 riders to start today in the tiny town of Vatan, population 2,000., always a wonderful source for random factoids about the start and finish towns, has a funny fact about Vatan: “It is a member of the Association of French Towns with funny sounding names (Vatan means Go Away) along with Arnac-la-Poste (Cheat the Post-Office), Bouzillй (Broken), Trйcon (Very Stupid) and many others; albeit, the town knows how to offer hospitality to visitors and proudly displays its motto: ‘Vatan…you’ll be back.'” The finishing town of Saint-Fargeau is even smaller than Vatan – only 1,800 people.

The race started off hot and stayed hot for most of the first hour. It took nearly 30 kilometers before the lucky duo of Johan Van Summeren (Silence) and Marcin Sapa (Lampre) were selected, bid adieu, and set out on their way to explore the fields of central France all by themselves.

It wasn’t just the falling down either early on. The race had to be neutralised for a moment in the first hour for the race to pass an ‘obstruction.’

The first 30k was not run without incident though. It seemed like the riders were in a falling down kind of mood. Every time I seemed to look back at the screen, someone else had fallen down. It was almost comical in its non-funniness, but at least everyone made it through the falling down period ok. Van Summeren and Sapa actually got away towards the end of the fall down zone. The field had split after another crash, the front split was waiting on the back split, and the front front split of Van-Sapa wasn’t waiting around for anyone.

Once Van-Sapa had left the premises, the crashes stopped. Apparently the two were the reason.

Bla bla, fast forward to catching time. There was never really a doubt. The organization was consistent and thorough at the front of the peloton today. This was not a day for a successful break – the field knew it, we knew it, and I’m guessing the break knew it too, but hey, one of them will start tomorrow with the red numbers of the Most Aggressive Rider.

Anyhow, the catch was made, the ship was captained by Columbia. It all looked to be headed for another predictable finish, and it ended predictably, but the path to Cavendish’s victory was a wee bit more curvaceous than in stages past.

The straight run-in to the line over the final two kilometers made it nearly impossible for Columbia to keep the pace high enough to force everyone else into submission. There was a definite fight for the front today, and at one point, Milram had managed to slot a few guys on front. They couldn’t get things ironed out and organized, which is exactly what Columbia does so damn well – they do it fast, hard, and they’re always together. Milram was none of the above, well, maybe fast. They were fast enough to go over the top of Columbia, but Ciolek was not attached to the train.

Milram’s time on front was short lived. If anything, Milram gave the leadout boys a wee bit more time to take a few deep breaths before each of them started their own sprints, which would culminate in the rocket ship blasting off.

And that they did.

Renshaw did his normal leadout thing to perfection, but the sprint was starting early from behind. Hushovd went first – blasting off to the left. Cavendish jumped with him, fit through some godawful tiny hole between Renshaw and Hushovd, then it was Farrar who put in a mighty dig up the middle as Cavendish dove for the inside of the final right hand bend.

Farrar put in a wicked sprint, but that little bend was probably the difference in the win and second place.

On the line, it was Cavendish, arms aloft, jubilant. Farrar looked more than peeved and gave his poor bars a good whacking for all the bad things they had done to him.

Stage 11 Results
1. Mark Cavendish (Columbia)
2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin)
3. Yauheni Hutarovich (FdJ)
4. Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
5. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)

General Classification After Eleven Stages
1. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r)
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) 0:06
3. Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:08
4. Levi Leipheimer (Astana) 0:39
5. Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) 0:46
6. Andreas Klцden (Astana) 0:54
7. Tony Martin (Columbia) 1:00
8. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) 1:24
9. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 1:49
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 1:54


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