Mark Cavendish wrote a new page in British cycling history when he equalled the feats of three of the Tour de France's top sprint greats with his 12th career victory on Friday.
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland retained the race leader's jersey after a long, 227.5km sixth stage from Montargis which, for the second day in a row, resulted in a bunch sprint after another futile breakaway.
For the second consecutive day Cavendish proved too fast for his rivals, the Isle of Man sprinter coming off the wheel of formidable lead-out man Mark Renshaw to finish the final 200 metres on his own.
American rival Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Transitions was second, with Italian Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre finishing third ahead of Australian Robbie McEwen and German Gerald Ciolek.
Cavendish's 12th stage win in a mere three participations on the Tour de France means he matches the stage win record of Erik Zabel, Mario Cipollini and McEwen.
Cav winds it up
The 24-year-old was, however, quick to share out the glory to the HTC-Columbia team riders who battle hard to set up his sprint train.
"I cross the line with my hands in the air, but it doesn't make me necessarily the only guy who's done it," said Cavendish. "Our job as a team is to win and if I can have faith in Mark (Renshaw) ... I'm really happy.
"I've got guys riding for me on the front all day. It's incredible to do, especially with the Alps coming up where some of our guys will have their own ambitions. It shows they are willing to sacrifice for the team."
A three-man breakaway formed early but despite their lead reaching a significant eight minutes by the 60km mark the collective strength of the peloton gradually prevailed.
With 73km to ride the lead of Spaniard Ruben Perez Moreno, German Sebastian Lang and France's Mathieu Perget had more than halved.
The HTC-Columbia team of Cavendish was ever-present at the front of the chasing pack for most of the day, being joined by the Saxo Bank team of Cancellara and some other sprinters' teams as they rolled through Burgundy.
Together, they helped slash the deficit to just 40secs with 25.4km and only one of the stage's small climbs remaining, making the prospect of a bunch sprint a mere formality.
Frenchman Dmitri Champion jumped out of the chasing peloton on the final climb with 23km to go, and soon closed the gap to the three leaders.
But despite the quartet battling together, they were reeled in with 10km to race.
With crosswinds threatening to split the pack, the yellow jersey contenders' teams - Astana, RadioShack and SaxoBank - moved to the front to make sure their leaders were not caught behind.
Inside the final kilometre Farrar's Garmin team pulled to the front, giving him the momentum for the final sprint where he could not match the power of Cavendish.
Farrar is slowly recovering from a broken wrist he suffered in a crash on stage two, and will now have to wait until next Thursday before challenging Cavendish again.
"Naturally as a sprinter I want to win, especially when the team works, but it's a really good sign. A few days ago I felt like my Tour was over, now I feel like I'm on the upswing again."
Fabian Cancellara with his Saxo Bank teammates
Saturday's seventh stage is a 165.5km ride from Tournus to Les Rousses ski resort at the foot of the French Alps. And if Cancellara passes that test with the yellow jersey on his shoulders he can look forward to having spent 21 days in the race lead in his career.
Still, the big Swiss rider put that achievement in perspective.
"Twenty one days - it's good, but I haven't won the Tour and that's the difference," he said. "Tomorrow if I still have it I'll be even more proud. But I also know we'll be in the mountains, so we have to see how the race goes tactically."
© AFP 2010
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