Once again, Columbia-HTC's Mark Cavendish proved to all why he is the fastest sprinter in professional cycling by taking his fourth win of the Tour. The Manxman has tied his tally from last year's Tour de France.
Cavendish still has time to garner even more wins before this Tour is over.
Today's stage, which did allow the use of race radios like normal, featured nearly identical conditions to yesterday. It was filled with rolling hills and manageable winds. Unlike yesterday, though, today was actually a race... rather than an almost nullified stage due to riders protesting the banning of radios.
Early in the day with the race only 20 kilometers in, two riders, Johan Van Summeren (Silence-Lotto) and Marcin Sapa (Lampre), made it clear of the peloton. With only two riders working and 192 mainly flat kilometers, they were destined to fail in the end.
As on most flat sprint stages, the AG2R team of race leader Rinaldo Nocentini paced the peloton early in the day. It was their symbolic duty to control the race before the sprinters' teams dug in.
With about 60 kilometers remaining, Columbia-HTC sent Bernhard Eisel to the front and he began eating into the breakaway's advantage. Their maximum advantage of only four minutes was quickly getting dissolved.
With the breakaway riders caught with fewer than 10 kilometers remaining, several sprinters' teams were trying to disrupt the train of team Columbia. Team Milram, working for Gerald Ciolek, tried to get into the mix and disrupt Columbia. The Garmin-Slipstream team of Tyler Farrar and the Cervelo team of Thor Hushovd tried disruption as well.
With Columbia's complete dominance on the sprint stages, the teams knew they had to disrupt Columbia's work and isolate Cavendish if they wanted to have a shot at victory.
The teams were hoping that these efforts would work because the finish was slightly uphill. It's the type of finish that usually does not suit Cavendish, and Hushovd and Farrar were hoping to capitalize on that.
However, their teams did not have the goods to disrupt Columbia. With those two riders isolated in the finish, Cavendish utilized his lead-out train to perfection. George Hincapie set a vicious speed from one kilometer down to 500 meters. His leadout man Mark Renshaw delivered Cav to 200 meters to go, and then unleashed the Manx Express.
Farrar could not come around Cavendish and settled for another second place. Mixing in with the bog boys, Yauheni Hutarovich (Francaise des Jeux) managed third on the day. Hushovd could only get fifth. He had to hand the green jersey back over to Cavnendish by a few points.
All the overall classification riders stayed safe today, and Nocentini maintained his yellow jersey over the Astana riders.
Tomorrow's twelfth stage is very similar to today's stage, with rolling hills throughout. The finish is noticeably uphill though. Hushovd will want to take every opportunity to capitalize on this finish like he did on the uphill finish on stage six to take back the green jersey.