Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) beat his former teammate and bitter sprint rival Mark Cavendish in Carmaux, but their head to head sprint was only the closing act of a thrilling finale to Carmaux that saw both Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) on the attack.
Gilbert used the short but painful Cote de Mirandol-Bourgnounac to attack the peloton. He got away with Voeckler and others as the green and yellow jersey wearers laid down their panache.
Gilbert was riding for the stage victory and more precious green jersey points. It didn't quite come off but his final last dig cost HTC-Highroad dearly and helped Greipel in the sprint.
Cavendish tried to look after himself after Tony Martin led the peloton the final kilometre, letting Daniele Oss (Liquigas-Cannondale) lead out the sprint, but Cavendish then went a little early. Greipel was on him and had the speed to come past him before the line, celebrating with one arm as Cavendish finished a wheel length behind him. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took third, ahead of Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) and Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil).
Victory meant Greipel joined the select club of riders who have won stages in all three grand tours. He celebrated with Gilbert, ending all talk of rivalry between the two as Gilbert targets the green jersey.
"It's an incredible feeling to win a stage in the biggest race in the world," Greipel said immediately after his victory.
"When I knew that I could be part of the race this year, winning a stage became my goal and the team supported me in that. I think I'm the happiest person the world at the moment. I've been working for this all season long. Gilbert attacked in last climb and then Marcel Sieberg got me in a good position so that I do my sprint."
Cavendish was gracious in defeat, making no excuses for not being able to hold off the charge of his former teammate. "I went early but it wasn't too early on this type of finish, but I didn't commit enough," Cavendish said. "I kicked with 170 [meters] to go but Greipel came past and beat me. I'm happy for him. He's come here to the Tour de France and won. I feel I made a mistake, but Greipel beat me, so there's no excuse I can say about that."
81 riders finished in the same time as the sprinters, with the overall classification unchanged and Thomas Voeckler still in yellow. Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Rabobank) is second at 1:49, with Cadel Evans (BMC) third at 2:26, followed by Fränk and Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) at 2:29 and 2:37 respectively.
Gilbert stayed in the green points jersey despite only finishing 14th in the sprint, while Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) again fought back the tears on the podium after defending the climber's polka-dot jersey. He rode with 33 stitches in his wounds from the stage nine crash caused by the French television car but finished 111th at 5:59. He has become the symbolic hero of survival in this crash strewn Tour de France.
Fast day in the saddle
The break gets clear
With the riders having enjoyed the first rest day of this year's race on Monday, the 158km stage was expected to be fast and furious as the breakaways tried to stop the sprinters strutting their stuff in Carmaux.
Breakaways have often formed as soon as race director Christina Prudhomme drops the start flag but today the 178 riders left in the race rolled along quietly for a few kilometres, perhaps a little scared they would get caught up in the hail and rain storm that hit Aurillac before the riders rolled out.
Fortunately the weather stayed dry and the peloton became lined out on the first little climb. A crash in the peloton after 11km then helped a breakaway of six go clear and set the pattern for the fast stage. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) were caught up in the crash, with the American later stopping briefly to sort out his bike. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) were also delayed and forced to work together to chase back to the peloton.
By the time the peloton had reformed, Rémy Di Gregorio (Astana), Arthur Vichot (FDJ), Sébastien Minard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Julien El Fares (Cofidis), Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) had a 40- second gap. Others tried to jump across but Europcar and even Thomas Voeckler himself, closed them down.
The six where then allowed to open a gap and made it to the intermediate sprint after the descent to Maurs (ironically where Alexandre Kolobnev won a stage in 2007). They picked up most of the big points, but behind the sprinters clashed for the minor points. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) again showed his green jersey intentions by beating Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) even if the Spaniard was not happy about being trapped against the barriers.
The stage settled after the sprint with Europcar and HTC-highroad helping keep the six in check. The gap touched three minutes as Marcato picked up the climbers points to make sure teammate Johnny Hoogerland kept the jersey but then fell gradually back as more teams helped Europcar and HTC work for a sprint finish.
Race on a knife edge
The final climb did not seem difficult but it was the speed with which Omega Pharma-Lotto hit it that caught the break and had the sprinters in trouble. HTC had started the climb near the front and cleverly slipped down the long peloton but Gilbert stomped on the pedals as if he was riding Liege-Bastogne-Liege and joined up with Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Voeckler and Dries Devenyns (Quick Step). Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) also got across the gap as the peloton blew apart behind them over the top of the 3.9km climb.
Martin's presence was a disturbing factor and the peloton never gave up the chase but for several minutes, the Tour de France was on a knife edge, with the yellow and green jerseys in the thick of the action. The five were caught by a Leopard Trek lead chase with five kilometres to go after Gilbert made one last dig. Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) Rob Ruijgh (Vacansoleil) tried another move but they were pulled back on the descent.
Even David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) did not have the speed to get away on the fast run-in, as HTC-Highroad tried to set up Cavendish. The US-based team was perfect when Cavendish won in Châteauroux but lacked numbers this time after the likes of Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel were dropped after doing so much work on the final climb.
Martin lead the peloton to the final kilometre but Cavendish was isolated and so vulnerable. Greipel saw it and took advantage, coming through late at speed to finally prove he can beat Cavendish in the big sprints in the biggest races.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.