CARMAUX, France — After all the feuding and hard words, Andre Greipel finally got what he wanted and it had nothing to do with talk: a winning ride in the Tour de France.
The German sprinter beat Mark Cavendish — his former teammate and sometimes adversary — by the length of a wheel Tuesday to capture the 10th stage of a three-week race that is soon to leave the flatlands for the perilous climbs of the Pyrenees.
Thomas Voeckler of France kept the yellow jersey after nestling safely in the main pack for most of the day. Defending champion Alberto Contador did much the same, and the Spaniard had even more reason to be careful after hurting his right knee during crashes in the fifth and ninth stages.
“At the beginning of the stage, I wasn’t sure what to think,” said Contador, a three-time champion. “But as the stage progressed my knee was feeling less sore.”
Contador, the best climber in the world, trails main rivals Cadel Evans of Australia and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg by 1:41 and 1:30 entering Wednesday’s flat run.
Tuesday’s 98-mile trip from Aurillac to Carmaux ended with Cavendish applying brutal acceleration and seemingly headed toward his third stage victory in this Tour. Instead, Greipel got on his wheel and surged ahead in the last 20 yards, a winning leg in cycling’s showpiece race at last secure.
Greipel and Cavendish clashed last year while on the HTC-Highroad team. Greipel, who now rides for Omega Pharma-Lotto team, was in a conciliatory mood.
“I have a lot of respect for Cavendish — he was won 17 stages of the Tour de France. Now I have one,” Greipel said. “He was not always really friendly with his comments (about) me. This is not my level. I just try to show on the bike what I am able to do. I always said to my teammates that we need to believe in our race and do our own things.”
Jose Joaquin Rojas of Spain was third. The top three completed the stage in 3 hours, 31 minutes, 21 seconds.
Cavendish is one of the most outspoken cyclists, his comments sometimes scathing. But after beating Greipel to win last Friday’s seventh stage in Chateauroux — in much the same way Greipel beat him Tuesday with a late sprint — the two cleared the air.
“We had a chat after the Chateauroux stage and he said ‘I have a big respect for your sprint”’ Greipel said. “I think he has shown he is one of the fastest sprinters on earth.”
Cavendish repaid the compliment, giving 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.”
Cavendish thinks he should have timed his run better.
“I didn’t commit early enough, I didn’t kick,” he said. “I kind of rolled round the last corner. … Greipel just came past me and beat me.”
Greipel comes across as mild and placid, so much so that his team told him to be more aggressive. The message seems to be sinking in.
“When I step off my bike I’m a really, really nice guy,” Greipel said. “Of course, I have to learn to be a bit more aggressive on the bike. … Actually, for the sprint you need this.”
Greipel punched the air in delight as he crossed the line. On the podium, he looked tearful as he celebrated.
“It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for all year,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful race in the world and the most famous. To win here is sensational.”
He dedicated his ride to teammate Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who was hurt in Sunday’s crash-filled stage and withdrew along with such other injured riders as Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov and American rider David Zabriskie.
“It wasn’t easy for us to lose a rider like him,” Greipel said. “I’m pretty sure he would (have been) on the podium in Paris. He told me this morning, ‘Go for the victory.’ I’m really happy to give him this victory.”
Contador is already looking toward the first real mountain stage Thursday.
“Hopefully, another day in the peloton can make me ready for the big climbs,” Contador said. “I will do everything I can to reach Paris as the winner. I feel better.”
Wednesday’s 11th stage is made for sprinters, a 104-mile route from Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur. But for the likes of Contador and Schleck, their minds are already on the looming huge climbs.