Cav wins 5th stage, Impey still second
Britain's Mark Cavendish won a crash-marred fifth stage of the Tour de France in Marseille on Wednesday as Australian Simon Gerrans retained the race leader's yellow jersey.
South Africa's Daryl Impey, riding for Orica-GreenEdge, held on to second place overall after finishing 13th on the day.
Cavendish, of the Omega-Pharma team, finished over a bike length ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Slovakian Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in a reduced bunch sprint after they had avoided a crash inside the final kilometre.
It was the Isle of Man rider's 24th stage win on the race and left him only 10 short of equalling the absolute record of 34 held by Belgian legend Eddy Merckx.
A month after winning five stages at the Giro d'Italia, Cavendish looks to be in unstoppable form but he was quick to pay tribute to his main lead-out man, Gert Steegmans.
"Gert took me in at such a speed and I just kept that speed going. I only had to accelerate in the final 150 metres. I'm super happy with that," added Cavendish, who in recent days has been recovering from a chest infection.
"I'm still not 100 percent after being ill last week. But it's good to get the account open here at the Tour de France. The morale is good in the team and the only way to make it better is by winning more stages."
On what was the second-longest stage (228.5 kilometre) of the 100th edition the peloton gave the green light to an early six-man breakaway which formed in the opening kilometres after Belgian Thomas De Gendt had gone on the attack.
By the 37km mark they had built a maximum lead of nearly 13 minutes but that began to drop as the teams with top sprinters began joining the chase being led by Gerrans's Orica-GreenEdge team.
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Sixty kilometres from the finish the lead had halved to just over six minutes and 10km further on the lead group was split in two as De Gendt, Yukiya Arashiro and Alexey Lutsenko - a former under-23 world champion who is making his race debut with Astana - left their companions behind.
Not wanting to miss out on contending a possible stage win, Arashiro's Europcar teammate Kevin Reza, also a race debutant, dug deep to bridge the gap.
The quartet's lead over the main bunch, however, had been trimmed to 5:05 with 40km to race as riders from Argos, Lotto, and Omega-Pharma joined Orica in the hunt.
Attempts to pull clear at the front by Reza and then Arashiro came to nothing and despite a tough headwind on the Gineste climb the escapees appeared to have little chance of keeping the pack at bay.
It was on the Gineste, whose summit was 12 km from the finish, that a crash in the chasing bunch took down around a dozen riders.
The incident left no visible casualties but delayed several including German Marcel Kittel, the winner of stage one, and Orica's main sprinter Matt Goss.
Kittel said he was forced down after he failed to get around a fallen rider from BMC: "A BMC rider came down just in front of me and I could do nothing to avoid him."
"Today we had two objectives," Gerrans said. "To try and win the stage and keep the yellow jersey within the team.
"Matt Goss got distanced on the final climb but I still have the yellow jersey on my shoulders and I managed to stay up the front and stay out of trouble."
The main peloton crested the summit only 19secs in arrears and reeled the last escapee, Lutsenko, with 4km to go.
The Lotto team of German sprinter Andre Greipel then took command inside the final kilometre after a crash further behind had stopped much of the peloton in its tracks.
Greipel, however, could only finish fifth as Cavendish made his move inside the final 250 metres to claim his first win of this year's race.
After winning three stages in 2012, the powerfully-built German has been tipped to be one of Cavendish's main rivals. Visibly frustrated at the finish, Greipel pledged: "We will get our stage win."
1. Mark Cavendish (Britain / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) 5:31:51"
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway / Team Sky) ST
3. Peter Sagan (Slovakia / Cannondale)
4. Andre Greipel (Germany / Lotto)
5. Roberto Ferrari (Italy / Lampre)
6. Alexander Kristoff (Norway / Katusha)
7. Juan Jose Lobato (Spain / Euskaltel)
8. Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania / Garmin)
9. Cyril Lemoine (France / Sojasun)
10. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spain / Movistar)
11. Samuel Dumoulin (France / AG2R)
12. John Degenkolb (Germany / Argos)
13. Daryl Impey (South Africa / Orica)
14. Danny van Poppel (Netherlands / Vacansoleil)
15. Simon Gerrans (Australia / Orica)
16. Egoitz Garcia (Spain / Cofidis)
17. Fabio Sabatini (Italy / Cannondale)
18. Gert Steegmans (Belgium / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
19. Wout Poels (Netherlands / Vacansoleil)
20. Julien El Fares (France / Sojasun)
1. Simon Gerrans (Australia / Orica) 18:19:15"
2. Daryl Impey (South Africa / Orica) ST
3. Michael Albasini (Switzerland / Orica)
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) +1"
5. Sylvain Chavanel (France / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
7. Chris Froome (Britain / Team Sky)
8. Richie Porte (Australia / Team Sky)
9. Nicolas Roche (Ireland / Saxo - Tinkoff) +9"
10. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic / Saxo - Tinkoff)
11. Alberto Contador (Spain / Saxo - Tinkoff)
12. Michael Rogers (Australia / Saxo - Tinkoff)
13. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Belgium / Lotto) +17"
14. Ryder Hesjedal (Canada / Garmin)
15. Adam Hansen (Australia / Lotto)
16. Andrew Talansky (US / Garmin)
17. Daniel Martin (Ireland / Garmin)
18. Tom Danielson (US / Garmin)
19. Alejandro Valverde (Spain / Movistar) +20"
20. Rui Costa (Portugal / Movistar)