MONTARGIS, FRANCE — A day after smashing his bike to the ground in a fit of frustration after losing yet another Tour de France sprint stage, Mark Cavendish found redemption Thursday at the end of the 116.5-mile Stage 5 from Epernay to Montargis.
The 24-year-old Cavendish, whose HTC-Columbia teammates led him out perfectly through the tricky finish -- where the road narrows and roundabouts suddenly appear -- won in 4 hours 30 minutes 50 seconds.
Another American team, Garmin-Transitions, was also at the front of the sprint pack, trying to sneak out an emotional victory for Tyler Farrar, who is riding with a broken bone in his wrist.
But it was the emotional Cavendish who stood up in the saddle at the end and who was sobbing on the podium to receive kisses and hugs from the award presenters.
"It means everything to me," Cavendish said. "It's incredibly emotional. All the pressure and emotion built up, but it's finally over."
Cavendish also wept during his interview on French television after the race, needing to stop several times and bury his head in a towel.
"It was hard this year. I always said everything was about the Tour de France," Cavendish said. "Things didn't go our way yesterday. I let [the team] down massively, and it would have been easy for them to say, 'He hasn't got it,' like other people did."
The overall standings didn't change after Thursday's stage and they aren't expected to after Friday's 141.4-mile excursion from Montargis to Gueugnon, which will be the longest stage, in terms of mileage, and another opportunity for a sprint finish before the Tour heads into the Alps.
Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara of the Saxo Bank team still wears the yellow jersey.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong remains in 18th place, 2 minutes 30 seconds behind Cancellara.
Among the other favorites for the overall title, Australian Cadel Evans of BMC Racing is third overall, 39 seconds behind Cancellara; 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank is sixth, 1:09 behind; and defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain and the Astana team, is ninth, 1:40 behind.
Before Cavendish's emotional win, it had been a day brightened by sunflowers and awash in sweat. The countryside between Epernay and Montargis was filled with the yellow flowers and temperatures heated up, reaching 100 degrees on the road. Riders were constantly taking wet towels or grabbing a water bottle and dousing themselves.
Before the race started, Contador came to the RadioShack team bus to present watches to team director Johan Bruyneel and Armstrong.
Bruyneel directed Contador's Astana team last year and Armstrong rode for the team, finishing third overall.
Tour winners traditionally provide teammates with gifts of thanks. Bruyneel personally accepted his. Armstrong did not. He told a VeloNews reporter that he was in the back of the bus attending to other matters when Contador arrived.
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TOUR DE FRANCE
Thursday's stage: A 116.5-mile mostly flat stretch from Epernay in the famed Champagne region to Montargis that was tailor-made for sprinters.
Winner: Britain's Mark Cavendish clinched the 11th Tour stage win of his career, and first in this Tour. Gerald Ciolek of Germany was second and Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen took third place in a sprint finish.
Yellow jersey: Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, who finished in the main pack. Defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain is ninth, 1:40 back, and seven-time champion Lance Armstrong remained 18th, 2:30 back.
Quote of the day: "It was definitely a stressful first four or five days, unlike anything I think we've seen." -- Armstrong on the opening stages, which included multiple crashes and some injuries.
*--* STAGE 5 RESULTS 1. Mark Cavendish, Britain 4:30:50 2. Gerald Ciolek, Germany same time 3. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Norway same time 4. Jose Joaquin Rojas, Spain same time 5. Thor Hushovd, Norway same time *--*
*--* OVERALL STANDINGS 1. Fabian Cancellara, Switzerland 22:59:45 2. Geraint Thomas, Britain 0:23 behind 3. Cadel Evans, Australia 0:39 behind 4. Ryder Hesjedal, Canada 0:46 behind 5. Sylvain Chavanel, France 1:01 behind *--*
Friday's stage: The sixth stage is a long and mainly flat 141-mile route from Montargis to Gueugnon that again favors sprinters. The race hits the mountains on Sunday.