Anything out the ordinary was expected to happen today. Today's 10th stage of the Tour was one of two days scheduled to be used without the use of race radios that serve as two-way communications between riders and their team directors driving the cars behind the peloton, giving tactical information and strategy.
With 15 out of the 20 teams signing a petition in protest of taking away the teams' safety net because of their ability to warn the riders of upcoming road conditions as well as who is in the breakaway, the riders in general were not impressed with the Tour's decision to try an experiment.
The end result of the riders' discontent came in the form of an easy day of racing. This was not the same kind of protest that happened in the Milan stage of the Tour of Italy earlier this year, where the riders protested the dangerous circuit course around Milan by riding at a leisurely 30 kph rather than normal race speeds.
Today, the riders still raced but took a form of active rest day, averaging only 40 kph on the entirely flat course with a tailwind. It was still pretty fast, but this course could have produced an average speed pushing 50 kph.
Also, the breakaway was kept in extremely firm check, partly because the peloton did not want to take any chances with a long chase without the help of the radios, and partly because the four breakaway riders, Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano), Benoit Vaurengard (Francaise des Jeux), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), and Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) did not push it as hard as they could have.
The breakaway never got more than two minutes of advantage, rather than the usual 10 minutes that a normal road stage with radios would see.
When the peloton began to chase hard, the advantage crumbled. Hupond was the last of the breakaway riders to survive. He was caught only 1.5 kilometers to go, as the peloton came raging down the road, with the sprinters' teams setting up their men.
This was going to be a full-fledged sprint showdown as riders jostled in the bunch for proper positioning near the front.
Around the final corner, it was once again Team Columbia's perfectly executed lead-out that delivered Mark Cavendish to his third Tour win this year. Cavendish opened up his sprint early with a full 300 meters to go, longer than normal.
Green jersey Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) was right on his wheel but could not come around him and was left in second. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) finished third.
Cavendish, as many have noted, is proving to be almost unbeatable in the sprints he contests. If Hushovd or Farrar, who have come in second and third several times already to Cavendish, want to beat him, they need to surprise the Manxman. To do this they must sprint early, rather than hoping to ride behind his wheel in the finale and come around him. Cavendish simply has too much speed for that to work, like today's finish (as well as Cavendish's other wins on stages two and three) showed.
Race leader Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) kept his lead comfortably today over the Astana onslaught of Contador, Armstrong, Kloden, and Leipheimer. Hushovd kept his green sprint jersey by a few points over Cavendish.
If Cavendish keeps winning stages, he will take back the green jersey. But, if Hushovd is smart, finishes second to Cav on the straight runs, and then can reproduce his stage six win when the finishes are hard as well as mop up intermediate sprint points during the stages, he could easily take the green jersey as well.
In tomorrow's 11th stage, another green jersey battle is expected. With only a couple small hills along the way and a flat finish, it is tailored for a sprint. It also has several intermediate sprint checkpoints along the way, which Hushovd might want to grab if the breakaway riders do not sweep them up first.