Tour de France Stage 5: Cavendish redeemed; Lance Armstrong still 18th

British cyclist Mark Cavendish won Stage 5 – his first stage win – of this year's Tour de France after a bumpy start to the 2010 season. Lance Armstrong stands 18th, two minutes and 30 seconds behind the leader after 613 miles of racing.

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    Team HTC-Columbia's Mark Cavendish of Britain celebrates on the podium after winning the fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Epernay and Montargis, on July 8. Cavendish silenced his critics and rivals with victory in the mass sprint finish of the 187.5-km fifth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.
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Standing on the podium after winning today’s Stage 5 of the Tour de France, Briton Mark Cavendish burst into tears.

The HTC-Columbia sprinter didn’t stop until race leader Fabian Cancellera mercifully interrupted Cavendish’s post-race interview with French television.

“I think for him it’s the prettiest victory of his career,” Cancellara said as Cavendish quickly left the set. “It’s a pretty thing for the sport.”

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For Cavendish, who edged out rivals on the sprint finish into Montargis, this emotional release was a long time coming.

Sidelined by health, poor judgment

The Isle of Man native, known as much for his brash personality as his on-bike talent, won six stages in last year’s Tour de France and had high expectations for the 2010 cycling season. But complications from voluntary dental surgery kept him out of action until mid-February.

When Cavendish finally returned to form in April, he was sidelined again – suspended by his team after he made an obscene gesture on the finish line of the Tour of Romandie’s second stage.

“I apologize to everybody watching the race,” Cavendish said in an April press release.

Though the first stages of the Tour de France were supposed to be redemptive for the 25-year old, they were anything but that.

Cavendish, who rides for Team HTC-Columbia, crashed in Brussels on the final sprint of Stage 1. Yesterday, he relinquished the win to veteran Italian Alessandro Petacchi.

“I let the guys down last night,” Cavendish admitted to reporters after today’s stage.

Searing heat, ruthless pack

With the pressure mounting, he delivered on Thursday’s 116.5-mile trip from Épernay to Montargis, one of the final stages for sprinters before the Tour reaches the Alps Saturday.

Suffering through searing heat, the racers crossed over the Seine river – a brief reminder of the July 25 finish in Paris – and cut through vast farms in the Loire Valley.

A breakaway of three riders led most of the day, but as is customary in flat stages like these, they were reeled in by the rest of the pack.

As the peloton arrived on the outskirts of Montargis, a canal-laden town that dubs itself the Venice of the region, Team HTC-Columbia fought their way to the front.

In the last 100 meters, Cavendish pushed past rivals, including Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, for the win.

Thrilled teammates

His teammates were thrilled after the race.

“He missed the chance yesterday and I’m just happy the monkey’s off his back,” Australian Mark Renshaw told the Monitor and other reporters at the finish line.

But perhaps the most elated member of Cavendish’s team wasn’t a racer, at least not anymore.

German Erik Zabel, a former sprint star who won 12 stages of the Tour de France in his career, has been working with Cavendish and HTC-Columbia since 2008.

When his protégé crossed the line victorious, Zabel ran out of the viewing area and stood on the road with his arms up in celebration.

Moments later Cavendish rolled towards him, gasping for air, and the two men embraced.

Overall standings after Stage 5:

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