Britain's Mark Cavendish of the Columbia team won the fifth stage of the Tour de France, a 232km ride between Cholet and Chateauroux on Wednesday.
Cavendish won a sprint finish ahead of Spaniard Oscar Freire and Germany's Erik Zabel after 5hr 27min 52sec in the saddle during the longest stage of the race. Norway's Thor Hushovd finished fourth with Australian Robbie McEwen crossing in eighth position.
Germany's Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner holds the overall leader's yellow jersey with a 12sec advantage on Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen and Britain's David Millar.
The peloton caught French champion Nicolas Vogondy in the final 50m after a long breakaway lead with two other French riders Florent Brard and Lilian Jégou.
In keeping with the opening stages of the race the early action was provided by the French riders. Agritubel rider Vogondy, Cofidis's Brard and FDJeux veteran Jégou did not waste their opportunity, and by the 33km mark had already taken their advantage to 8min 15sec.
But with the sprinters teams desperate to guarantee the race's first real bunch sprint, their bid to reach the finish unhindered was virtually doomed from the start. As Gerolsteiner started the chase, they were joined by the Credit Agricole team of Hushovd, the second stage winner, and the Milram team of German sprinter Erik Zabel.
Steadily, the deficit began to close and by the time the peloton reached the second intermediate sprint at 98km the frontrunners' lead had dropped to 6:55.
Minutes before then Spain's yellow jersey hopeful Alejandro Valverde suffered a scare when he was among several riders who fell in the peloton. Caisse d'Epargne's team leader got back on his bike after an apparent puncture, but according to officials suffered knocks on his forearm and knee.
Credit Agricole's stage intentions soon became clear when they put more riders up the front of the bunch to help Gerolsteiner lead the chase.
The Columbia team of Kirchen, wearing the green jersey so cherished by Hushovd, and Cavendish followed suit, effectively condemning the leaders to being reeled in.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008