Mark Cavendish wins Tour fifth stage
CAP FREHEL, France -- Mark Cavendish of Britain won a windy and crash-marred fifth stage of the Tour de France in a mass sprint on Wednesday, while Thor Hushovd of Norway kept the leader's yellow jersey.
Defending champion Alberto Contador fell in a crash and RadioShack rider Janez Brajkovic broke his collarbone and pulled out of the race during the 102-mile stage from Carhaix to Cap Frehel on the English Channel.
Cavendish, a sprint specialist, collected his 16th career Tour stage victory and his first this year by speeding past Philippe Gilbert of Belgium -- who finished second -- and Jose Joaquin Rojas in third.
"I am really happy. It was a difficult finish," said Cavendish, who rides with the HTC-Highroad team. "I put every thing into it ... If we win, it's not because we're lucky, it's because we're good."
The British rider, known almost as much for his powerful legs as his sharp tongue, took aim at unidentified critics who he said expressed doubts about his abilities.
"It's always sweet to silence the ignoramuses," he said.
But Gilbert succeeded in making him work hard in the sprint.
"Normally, I try to win by a little-ish margin, just to try and save energy," Cavendish said. "Today, I had to give everything I had. He's taken a lot out of me, so I'll take a couple of days to recover."
The top standings didn't change because the vast majority of riders crossed in a pack right behind the sprinters. Hushovd kept his one-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia in second. Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is third overall, four seconds back.
Schleck's younger brother Andy -- the Tour runner-up for the last two years -- is 10th, 12 seconds behind. Contador, who lost time by getting caught up in a crash in Stage 1, is 39th overall, 1:42 behind Hushovd.
The stage Wednesday included a picturesque patch along rocky Brittany cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, was mostly marked by crashes that brought down some of the biggest names in the pack. Two riders pulled out, reducing the pack to 195.
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"It was very nervous, and because of that you get a lot of crashes, because there are 200 riders who want to be in front," said Hushovd, who retained the coveted yellow jersey for a fourth straight day.
Many riders were jostling to stay at the front -- and ahead of possible group spills.
Contador, the Spanish three-time Tour champion, fell at about the 44-mile mark. With his Saxo Bank jersey ripped over the right shoulder, he took off his helmet briefly, then gave a thumbs-up to signal that he was all right.
"It was very difficult day, with a lot of tension," said Contador, who had scrapes on his right shoulder, elbow and knee. He said he took "a little knock" while braking to avoid one crash, then had his own a few miles later.
"When I got back going, five kilometers later, my chain came off -- so I fell," Contador told French TV, which showed images of him throwing his bike on the roadside at the time. "What matters is, I was able to get back up."
"Yes, it'll be a bad night, of course, but you have to think about tomorrow," he added, suggesting his bruises and bumps might cause him to lose some sleep.
The highest-profile withdrawal was Brajkovic. The 27-year-old Slovenian was evacuated to a hospital in an ambulance. A race medical report said he had suffered a broken collarbone and a concussion.
Teammate Levi Leipheimer of the United States also was involved in a crash but returned to the course. In one of the more dramatic spills, Saxo Bank's Nicki Sorensen bumped into the motorcycle of a race photographer, and skidded on a roadside.
The photographer dragged his bike along the road -- and race organizers barred its driver from covering the race.
Robert Gesink, the leader of the Rabobank team, went down in the same spill as Brajkovic. A mass crash earlier tangled up France's Sylvain Chavanel and Britain's Bradley Wiggins. Yet another ensnared Belgian sprint star Tom Boonen and his teammate Gert Steegmans.
Christophe Kern, the French time-trial champion, dropped out of the race after yet another crash.
"I kept hearing over the radio, 'Crash! Crash! Crash!' and then I saw guys like Gesink coming back to the peloton all covered in dirt," Evans said. "It was a dangerous day, I think."
With his jersey torn over his right shoulder, Boonen winced in pain behind an escort from Quick Step teammate Andy Engels -- and finished more than 13 minutes behind the main pack.
On top of his injury, Boonen was penalized along with Rojas for an "irregular sprint" during the intermediate sprint earlier in the day's stage, race officials said. The riders were stripped of points used to calculate who wins the Tour's green jersey awarded to the best sprinter.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press