VALENCE, France (Reuters) – Mark Cavendish edged closer to Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour de France stage wins record on Tuesday when he claimed his third victory in this year’s race.
The Briton won a bunch sprint to take the 10th stage, a 190.7km ride from Albertville, to rack up his 33rd career win on the Tour, one fewer than Belgian great Merckx.
Cavendish, perfectly set-up by his Deceuninck-Quick Step team mates, beat Belgians Wout van Aert and Jasper Philipsen.
Slovenian Tadej Pogacar retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey as he stayed safe in the leading peloton in a nervy finale in the Rhone valley.
Belgian Tosh van der Sande and Canadian Hugo Houle were the two breakaway riders of the day but on the mostly pancake-flat terrain, their chances of beating the peloton were close to zero.
Van der Sande halted his effort with 38km left and Houle was reined in two kilometres further down the road.
Michael Matthews’s Bike Exchange team upped the pace on a short hill to try to get rid of some of the heavier sprinters, but Cavendish followed.
Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli suffered a mechanical 28km from the line and was forced to spend valuable energy to make his way back into the bunch.
Cavendish’s team produced a brutal acceleration to split the peloton as crosswinds blew on the road, leaving several riders trapped behind, although the main overall contenders were on the right end of the split.
The 36-year-old Cavendish, back on the Tour for the first time since 2018, stayed in team mate Michael Morkov’s wheel until 250 metres from the line and none of his rivals could match his burst of speed.
Cavendish also extended his lead in the points classification, which he won in 2011.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ed Osmond)