Tour de France: Mark Cavendish powers to 21st Tour stage win
Mark Cavendish produced a powerful solo performance to edge out Andre Greipel by half a wheel to win the second stage of the Tour de France.
It was his 21st Tour stage win, moving him clear into sixth place on the all-time list, one behind Lance Armstrong.
Cavendish, who rode the final kilometre unsupported by other Team Sky riders, shot past Greipel in the final 50m.
Fellow Briton Bradley Wiggins remains seven seconds behind Swiss Fabian Cancellara in the overall standings.
“It's not possible to chase the green jersey alone so I'm just trying to get the stages and then see”
Cavendish, who has won 20 Tour stages over the last four years, entered the three-week Tour with modest hopes as Team Sky had decided to focus their efforts around Wiggins, who is targeting the yellow jersey in the general classification.
As a result, 27-year-old Cavendish was without a train of riders - something he benefited from at HTC - and was forced to go it alone while his sprint rivals enjoyed the support of their team-mates.
But the Isle of Man sprinter timed his race perfectly, latching on to the back of former colleague Greipel's wheel and biding his time to snatch victory, with the German in second and Australia's Matt Goss third.
"It was so hectic," said Cavendish. "If it had just been sprinters it would have been OK but every type of climber and GC [general classification] rider was at the finish.
"There were question marks around whether Cavendish could win stages without having a team of riders dedicated to helping him as has been the case in the past. But those questions have been answered today. Normally, he's quite a slow starter so it sets a nice marker for the rest of the tour. This year, there are fewer opportunities for the sprinters so it's great to get a first win under his belt. For Wiggins, all that he is worried about is staying out of trouble and keeping his head down so it was a good day for him."
"I knew it would be difficult, dangerous and hectic here but I came in without any pressure. It was just about being plucky about it.
"I knew the finish and knew there was a headwind, so I knew you could come from behind.
"I'm not really chasing [the point leader's green jersey] this year. I'll keep it in the back of my mind and go for every opportunity but I'm not going to put myself in the ground for it.
"It's not possible to chase the green jersey alone [without team-mates' support] so I'm just trying to get the stages and then see."
Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said: "Psychologically that was a big stage for all the sprint teams.
"He [Cavendish] has proved there why he is the number one in the world and why he has been the number one for a long time."
It was an exciting finish to an otherwise predictable day.
Frenchman Anthony Roux broke from the pack with 22km gone of the 207km stage, with [King of the Mountains] polka dot jersey holder Michael Morkov and Christophe Kern giving chase.
Tour de France stage wins
- Eddy Merckx, Bel (1969-75) - 34
- Bernard Hinault, Fra (1978-86) - 28
- Andre Leducq, Fra (1927-35) - 25
- Lance Armstrong, US (1993-2005) - 22
- Andre Darrigade, Fra (1953-64) - 22
- Mark Cavendish, GB (2008 to present) - 21
- Nicolas Frantz, Lux (1924-29) - 20
- Francois Faber, Fra (1908-14) - 19
The trio spent much of the race by themselves, taking the top three placings at the intermediate sprint which was 54.4km from the finish, before Roux launched another solo attack.
This time, Kern and Morkov let the Frenchman go and eased back into the peloton which then gave chase and reeled Roux in with 15km to go.
The bunch upped the tempo with two kilometres to go with the Lotto and BMC teams moving to the front and Cavendish's sprint rival Marcel Kittel at the back due to illness.
Cavendish then unleashed a brutal burst of pace to snatch victory in the Belgian city - his first Tour stage win outside France.
Cancellera comfortably finished in the bunch, as did Wiggins and 2011 winner Cadel Evans, to leave the general classification standings unchanged.
Tuesday's third stage runs over 197km from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer and features five climbs in the last 35km.
Stage two result:
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) Team Sky - 4hrs 56mins 59 secs
2. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto - same time
3. Matt Goss (Aus) Orica - same time
4. Tom Veelers (Ned) Argos - same time
5. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - same time
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack - 10hrs 02mins 31 secs
2 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky - @ 07"
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma - same time
4 Tejay Van Garderen (US) BMC Racing - @ 10"
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky - @ 11"