By Julien Pretot
VALENCE, France (Reuters) -Mark Cavendish edged closer to Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour de France stage wins record on Tuesday when he claimed his third victory in this year’s race. The Briton won a bunch sprint to take the 10th stage, a 190.7km ride from Albertville, to rack up his 33rd career win on the Tour, one fewer than great Belgian Merckx.
Cavendish, perfectly set-up by his Deceuninck-Quick Step teammates, beat Belgians Wout van Aert and Jasper Philipsen. “I didn’t do anything today; my team did everything,” said Cavendish, who still refuses to discuss Merck’s record. “As always, I’m just happy to be racing my bike and wear my Deceuninck-Quick Step jersey on the Tour de France. I’m 36, and with these young guys, it’s the first time I race with them.
“In a while, I’ll be cheering for them. If I can provide joy and entertainment and be part of the story (of the race), then that’s what really matters for me.” Slovenian Tadej Pogacar retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey as he stayed safe in the leading peloton in a nervy finale in the Rhone valley.
He leads Australian Ben O’Connor by two minutes, one second, and Colombian Rigoberto Uran by 5:18. Belgian Tosh van der Sande and Canadian Hugo Houle were the two breakaway riders of the day, but their chances of beating the peloton were close to zero on the primarily pancake-flat terrain.
Van der Sande halted his effort with 38km left, and Houle was reined in two kilometers further down the road while back in the peloton, Australian Richie Porte was again victim of a crash. Michael Matthews’s Bike Exchange team upped the pace on a short hill to get rid of some of the heavier sprinters, but Cavendish followed.
Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli suffered an automatic 28km from the line and was forced to spend valuable energy to make his way back into the bunch. Cavendish’s team produced a brutal acceleration to split the peloton as crosswinds blew on the road, leaving several riders trapped behind. However, the leading overall contenders were on the right end of the split.
The 36-year-old Cavendish, back on the Tour for the first time since 2018, stayed in teammate Michael Morkov’s wheel until 250 meters from the line, and none of his rivals could match his burst of speed. Cavendish also extended his lead in the points classification, which he won in 2011. Wednesday’s 11th is a 198.9-km mountain trek in Provence, featuring a double ascent of the awe-inspiring Mont Ventoux. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ed Osmond)