Carmaux, France, Jul 13: German sprinter Andre Greipel won Tuesday's 10th stage of the Tour de France, beating former teammate Mark Cavendish by a wheel's length in a dash to the line for his first win in cycling's showcase race.
French rider Thomas Voeckler keeps the yellow jersey after nestling safely in the main pack for most of the 158-kilometer (98.2-mile) route from Aurillac to Carmaux.
Wednesday's 11th stage is another flat route for sprinters before riders reach the grueling climbs of the Pyrenees.
Cavendish looked to have sealed his third stage win of this year's Tour, and 18th of his career, when he turned into the final straight and pedaled hard.
But Greipel timed his attack to perfection, storming past Cavendish in the last 20 meters with a late burst of speed to edge out his rival, punching the air in delight as he crossed the line for his first Tour stage win.
“It's the moment I've been waiting for all year,” said Greipel, who rides for the Omega Pharma-Lotto team. “It's the most beautiful race in the world and the most famous. To win here is sensational.”
Spanish rider Jose Joaquin Rojas of Spain was third. All finished in a time of 3 hours, 31 minutes, 21 seconds.
Cavendish thought he could have timed his run better.
“I didn't commit early enough, I didn't kick. I kind of rolled round the last corner, and kicked with 170 to go,” Cavendish said. “Greipel just came past me and beat me.”
Defending champion Alberto Contador and his main Tour rivals—Luxembourg's Andy Schleck and Australia's Cadel Evans—all finished safely without losing any time to one another.
Contador, who was riding with a sore right knee, feels he is getting back to full fitness.
“I'm feeling better and better,” Contador said. “At the beginning of the stage, I wasn't sure what to think but as the stage progressed my knee was feeling less sore.”
Schleck, runner-up to Contador in the last two Tours, remains 1 minute, 30 seconds ahead of the Spaniard in the overall standings, and 11 seconds behind two-time Tour runner-up Evans.
Greipel looked tearful as he celebrated his win on the podium.
Cavendish and Greipel openly feuded last year when they were both on the HTC-Highroad team.
“He's the best sprinter on the Tour de France, and to be able to beat him is a big moment for me,” Greipel said. “The nine first days of the Tour were hard for us. We told ourselves that we had a rest day and we had to keep fighting.”
Greipel was beaten to the line by Cavendish in the seventh stage last Friday in Chateauroux after being the one to attack too soon. This time, Cavendish gave credit where it was due.
“Now I'm happy for him. He's come to the Tour de France and he's won,” Cavendish said. “I feel I made a mistake but Greipel beat me so there's not an excuse I can say.”
The tense relations between them are improving.
“We had a chat after the Chateauroux stage and he said ‘I have a big respect for your sprint,”' Greipel said. “He was not always really friendly with his comments (about) me. This is not my level.”
An early breakaway of six riders was cut down to three when French duo Arthur Vichot and Sebastien Minard were joined by Italian cyclist Marco Marcato at the base of a short 4.1-kilometer (2.54-mile) ride up Cote de Villefranche-de-Rouergue.
The peloton caught Vichot and Minard with about 17 kilometers (10.6 miles) remaining, leaving only Marcato in front.
But Marcato's lead didn't last much longer. A new group of five, featuring the yellow jersey of Voeckler and green shirt of Philippe Gilbert, surged ahead in the last 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).
Gilbert, the winner of the Tour's opening stage, then accelerated ahead as he went for a spectacular sole win. But the Belgian had far too much road left ahead of him and the pack soon swallowed him up.
Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd, who lost the yellow jersey to Voeckler in Sunday's ninth stage, was briefly delayed near the end when he had to pull over to put his left shoe back on.
Voeckler, who also wore the yellow jersey in 2004, was near the front of the pack as the sprint was launched and was happy to get to the line without incident. The first nine stages of the race were marred by heavy crashes and injuries.
“The yellow jersey comes with a lot of tension, a lot of stress,” Voeckler said. “But in terms of the fans it's a fabulous thing.” AP