Cavendish over the rainbow at Tour
TOURNAI, Belgium (AP) - Mark Cavendish wears the rainbow jersey of cycling's world champion, and the British rider says it gave him the determination he needed to win Monday's sprint stage without the support riders that helped him win his previous 20 Tour de France stages.
The 27-year-old from the Isle of Man has now won 21 Tour de France stages since his first win at Chateauroux in 2008.
Monday's win was different because unlike in past years, Cavendish couldn't rely on teammates to help him to the finish line. His Team Sky squad has been assembled with the goal of helping Bradley Wiggins become the first British winner of cycling's premier event, leaving Cavendish almost on his own against rival sprinters like Andre Greipel and Matt Goss, whose teams work to put their stars in the best possible position during the last few hundred yards of a race.
Cavendish says his rainbow stripes helped make the difference.
"Every day in training and every day in racing every few minutes I look down and see the rainbow bands and it gives me a great sense of pride,'' Cavendish said. "I just want to do justice to every great rider who's worn it before me.''
Cavendish now has won nine races while wearing the world champion's jersey he won last September in Copenhagen. Thor Hushovd of Norway, the 2010 world champion, had four wins in the rainbow stripes, including two Tour stages. Belgian champion Tom Boonen, who is skipping this year's Tour to concentrate on his training for the London Olympics, netted 21 wins in the rainbow jersey, including two Tour stages.
Unlike Monday's flat stage, ideal for pure sprinters like Cavendish, Tuesday's 122-mile run from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France includes five short but steep hills in the last 21 miles, including an uphill finish.
The top standings didn't change after the bunch-sprint finish of Monday's 129-mile course from Vise to Tournai - the race's last day in Belgium before heading to France.
Wiggins, a three-time Olympic champion, is second - 7 seconds behind leader Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, who retained the yellow jersey for a third day after seizing it in Saturday's opening prologue.
Defending champion Cadel Evans is eighth, 17 seconds behind Cancellara. The Australian has been a bit overshadowed by Wiggins because of the Briton's three multi-stage race victories.
Cavendish's main support rider with Sky has been Bernard Eisel of Austria, with Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway - a rising star who last year won two Tour stages himself - in a backup role.
On Monday, Cavendish just wanted to be opportunistic: "I was a bit like, `Give it a shot, see what happens, and if you don't win, you don't win - we've got bigger things to try for here.'''
It paid off. With several hundred meters to go, with Greipel trailing his own leadout man - New Zealand's Gregory Henderson - Cavendish held tight to the German's back wheel.
As Henderson peeled away to let Greipel go it alone, Cavendish whizzed by on the left and nosed ahead with five yards to go as the German bobbed frantically in an effort to stave off the Briton's surge.
"Normally I win by some bike lengths. Today I had to lunge at the line, so you see that it wasn't too easy,'' Cavendish said.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten and Samuel Petrequin contributed to this article.