British sprint king Mark Cavendish powered to victory in the 12th stage of the Tour of Spain on Thursday -- enabling him to claim individual stage wins in all three of cycling's major Tours.
Spain's Igor Anton of the Euskaltel team retained the leader's red jersey after the 172.5-kilometre ride from the tiny principality of Andorra in the Pyrenees mountains to Lleida in northeastern Spain.
Cavendish edged American Tyler Farrar of the Garmin-Transitions team in a sprint to the line, and third was the Briton's HTC-Columbia teammate Matthew Goss of Australia.
It was the Isle of Man rider's first individual stage victory in his debut in the Tour of Spain.
He already has a remarkable 15 stage victories in the Tour of France over the past three years and five over two years in the Giro d'Italia.
The 25-year-old had grabbed the overall leadership on the first day of the Tour of Spain on August 28 after leading HTC-Columbia to victory in the team time trial in the southern city of Seville, and held onto the red jersey after the second stage.
But Thursday race marked his first individual stage win in the event.
After Wednesday's gruelling mountainous stage, which included a summit finish in Andorra, the scene was set for a mass sprint finish in Lleida in Thursday's stage, which included just one 2nd category climb.
It was Goss who first looked set to take the stage, emerging from the pack in the final stretch, before Cavendish took over.
"It was so chaotic the final (stretch), really chaotic," Cavendish said afterwards. "I thought I was too far back with 600 (metres) to go. And then Goss just went. Then he gave me the lead out and I turned around and saw we had a gap, and I actually wanted to give him the win."
He praised the team effort that went into the victory, especially the work of Denmark's Lars Bak.
A total of 83 others riders all finished with the same time as the winner.
The stage was otherwise marked by a breakaway that was composed of nine riders after some 50 kilometres. But they were caught by the peloton about some 20 kilometres from the finish.
Anton, who recaptured the red jersey on Wednesday, maintains his 45-second lead over Italian Vincenzo Nibali, of Liquigas, in the overall standings, with Cervelo rider Xavier Tondo of Spain third.
The sprinters may have another chance to shine on Friday's 13th stage, which takes the riders 196 kilometres from Rincon de Soto to Burgos in north-central Spain and includes just two 3rd category climbs.
On Saturday is the first of three mountainous stages before an individual time trial in the northern town Penafiel on Tuesday.
The 21-stage Tour of Spain, the third of the Grand Tours after the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, wraps up in Madrid on September 19.
© AFP 2010
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