Cavendish wins 18th tour stage in near deluge.

Cavendish wins again.

Eighteen and wet and wild and dangerous. No, not the podium girl, the sprinter.

Mark Cavendish took his 18th win today in a soggy and dangerous stage from Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur. He also slipped on a warm, dry green jersey as the new leader of the sprint competition. That’s three wins in this Tour for the boy racer with the chin stubble.

At times the rain pounded so hard the conditions were apocalyptic. With the riders arriving in less than ten minutes, the finish line was lashed with driving rain. In the the press room, satellite images went down and 200 journalists groaned — it came back just in time.

The HTC-Highroad train had their work cut out for them. With two kilometers to go, Cavendish was outnumbered, down to lead-out Mark Renshaw and Tony Martin who rode with his tongue out dragging like a dog. Garmin-Cervelo had then out-numbered with David Millar, Thor Hushovd and Julian Dean lined up ahead of sprinter Tyler Farrar.

Omega Pharma-Lotto shoved their way forward for Andre Greipel and even Lampre appeared ready for a fight. The Member of the British Empire went hard, ready to avenge yesterday’s surprising loss. Greipel closed but not quite and too late. Farrar had a bad line and an opening that closed fast. That’s the one-two-three, allez!

The break — les echappee– definitly qualitifed as the hard men of the day. Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Tristan Valentin (Cofidis), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Jimmy Enggoulvent (Saus-Sojasun) and Mickael Delage (FDJ) gave it their best shot.

They spoke little, heads down, getting it over with one way or the other — they died like pros. With five kilometers left, they still had 17 seconds but the catch was made at 3 and Lars Boom held out for another five minutes. Boom always gives it everything.

Then it was the Cavendish show and nobody was going to spoil the ending he had in mind. Number 18, stuffed lion, champagne, hot shower.

It certainly wasn’t a stage without incident. New worst friend Vacansoleil’s Romain Feillu hit one of Cavendish’s shoes with his front wheel. The impact knocked a buckle loose. A little repair work was in order not recriminations or harsh words. Still, we expect to see this headline soon: Cavendish beats rivals wearing one shoe.

Given the constant crashes in this tour, all teams with a GC contender were at battle stations. George Hincapie and Brent Bookwalter kept Cadel Evans up front. Fabian Cancellara always kept the Brothers Schleck safe. Nobody wanted another collarbone, concussion or accident. Mission accomplished.

But every stage in the Tour has a dedication, right? Mark Cavendish announced in the post race press conference that he was dedicating the win to little Tyler Blick, who is battling leukemia. “He’s a proper little fighter,” said Cavendish.

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