Cavendish wins “skin” game in Tour. 19 wins and counting.

Cavendish at sign-in, Montpellier, France.

“They ride themselves out of their skin” — Mark Cavendish in Montpellier.

The HTC-Highroad team did what they do best on the sprint stages of the Tour de France: riding hors skin.

The stage from Limoux to Montpellier had a profile that looked exactly like Mark Cavendish.

It was flat except for a small rise in the middle. Some said the winds might be tricky, other claimed the run-in was a bit technical but the ending was largely foretold.

His teammates rode hard for 187 kilometers and dropped him just short of the finish line. (Man’s got to do a little work!) Those last 200 meters were all Cavendish, ripping up the road, wattage near sound barrier, breaking clear of everyone.

Tyler Farrar was half a Cervolo-length back and the experienced Alessandro Petacchi managed a fine third place. That makes 19 Tour stage wins in four years — and if that doesn’t bring in a new sponsor for Bob Stapleton’s team, then cycling is in trouble.

As always, Cavendish was effusive in his praise of his teammates. “They ride themselves out of their skin,” said Cavendish. “That just shows the commitment these guys have for me. I’m incredibly lucky.”

It certainly wasn’t an easy day in the saddle on what those crazy French call a transition stage. Transition by riding out of skin? Brent Bookwalter of BMC tweeted that “If you’re ┬áriding the Tour and don’t have an ulcer after today, I’m impressed.” George Hincapie called it a “hard, nervous day.”

If the day was a war of nerves, Cavendish certainly came out the points winner in the green jersey conpetition. With the stage win today, he has 319 points in the bank with Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) at 282 and Philippe Gilbert hanging in at 248.

Speaking of points, Cavendish made it clear he believes that only his squad rides to win sprints. “The other teams don’t wanna ride for a spint,” he said. “If I was on a team like that, it would be a big knock to my ego.”

With four wins so far in the 2011 Tour de France, nobody is too worried about the state of Cavendish’s ego. It’s large, fully functioning and at maximum inflation.

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