CHATEAUROUX, France — Mark Cavendish captured the crash-marred seventh stage Friday in the same town where three years ago he won a Tour de France stage for the first time. Thor Hushovd kept the leader’s yellow jersey.
A pileup toward the end of the 135-mile course across the Loire River valley cost British champion Bradley Wiggins any shot of a top-three finish in Paris. Team Sky’s leader crashed out of the race with what the team said was a broken collarbone.
Cavendish, who rides for HTC-Highroad, sprinted out of the speeding pack in the last few hundred yards, beating fellow sprint specialists Alessandro Petacchi and Andre Greipel to the finish.
Cavendish also won the sprint in Chateauroux in 2008, the first of his 17 Tour de France stage victories.
“It’s a very special day for me … it’s a very sentimental moment,” Cavendish said. “I have to thank the guys for all their work today, it was a hard windy day, and the guys rode hard for me all the way through. They were marvelous.”
Wiggins went down along with a few dozen other riders, 23 miles from the finish. Twenty-four hours earlier Wiggins and his Sky teammates were celebrating Norwegian Boasson Hagen’s stage victory, the first in team history.
Wiggins was competing in his fifth tour and, after winning the pre-tour warm up Criterium du Dauphine in June, had been considered a top contender for the Tour.
“He was in the form of his life, I really believe he would have done something here,” Cavendish said of his fellow countryman.
Cavendish has now taken 27 stage wins in major Tours, including two stages of the Giro d’Italia in 2011, as well as 68 wins on the road since turning pro in 2007. HTC-Highroad has racked up 42 victories this season alone, making them the most successful ProTour team.
Britain’s Team Sky suffered a cruel reversal of fortune, losing their leader and main contender. Wiggins went down along with a few dozen other riders, 38 kilometers from the finish. Only 24 hours earlier Wiggins and his Sky teammates were celebrating Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen’s stage victory, the team’s first ever.
Sky manager Dave Brailsford said the crash that took out Wiggins was caused by a sudden slowing by some riders in the peloton.
“I think the guys were moving Bradley up, he went into a tailwind, they knew it was coming. Somebody apparently slammed the brakes on, the whole peloton skidded and then powered into the back of him at a great speed. There’s a lot of guys (who) hit the deck,” Brailsford said.
Rounding out the disappointing day for Team Sky was Geraint Thomas’ loss of the young rider’s white jersey, after he finished the stage in a group 306 behind Cavendish.
There was no change at the top of the standings, with Cadel Evans still in second place, just one second behind, and Frank Schleck still in third place, four seconds behind Hushovd.
Race favorite and three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador finished the stage safely in the lead group, maintaining the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider’s 1:42 deficit in the overall standings.
“We kind of knew that this could be the last very nervous stage so we were extremely cautious and focused on keeping Alberto out of trouble and the boys did a perfect job,” said Bradley McGee, the Danish team’s sports director. “Now, we’re looking forward to go uphill to something that just might be our terrain.”
Former world champion Tom Boonen also left the race. The 30-year-old Belgian star pulled out after he failed to recover from injuries he suffered in a crash on Wednesday.
“Yesterday it was OK, I felt OK, but today I’m really doing bad, my head hurts, I can’t concentrate and I’m a danger for my colleagues,” Boonen said.