BRIVE-LA-GAILLARDE, France – British sprint king Mark Cavendish produced a stunning finish to claim victory on the 18th stage of the Tour de France, a 226 km ride between Blagnac and Brive-La-Gaillarde Friday.
Sky teammate and compatriot Bradley Wiggins came over the finish line seconds later with his 2min 05sec overall lead on British teammate Chris Froome intact.
Wiggins, who is set to become Britain's first winner of the world's biggest bike race on Sunday, played a starring role for his Sky teammate in what was a technical but thrilling finale into Brive.
A number of attacks were launched in the closing kilometres but with the gap coming down steadily the sprinters' teams started to pull at the front in anticipation of a possible bunch finish.
Wiggins pulled at the front for Cavendish in the closing 1.5 km before peeling off and letting Norwegian teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen take over the job of leading the chase.
In the closing 400 metres Irishman Nicolas Roche, seeing the peloton closing in, made a bid for victory with Spaniard Luis Leon Snachez sticking on his wheel.
But with the line in sight Cavendish emerged from nowhere and dug deep to deliver a trademark turn of speed that handed him his second stage win of the race and 22nd of his career.
Sanchez and Roche, who would eventually finish fourth and fifth, could only gesture in disbelief.
Australia's Matt Goss, of Orica-GreenEdge, was second just ahead of Slovakian Peter Sagan of Liquigas. – Sapa-AFP