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Tour of Spain 2012: Chris Froome in contention

No change at the top as Froome retains Tour of Spain title hopes

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UPDATED:

16:45 GMT, 24 August 2012

Chris Froome remains in contention after Germany's John Degenkolb claimed his third win of the week at the Vuelta a Espana, leading home a frantic sprint finish on stage seven of the race.

The Team Argos-Shimano rider, who holds the green jersey, made a break as the finishing line approached to take the plaudits ahead of Italian Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Allan Davis of Australia (Orica-GreenEdGE).

Sprint finish: German rider John Degenkolb (second right) wins the stage

Sprint finish: German rider John Degenkolb (second right) wins the stage

Team Sky had mounted a strong challenge in the final few kilometres of the 164km stage between Huesca and Alcaniz, but were unable to keep up the pace at the end with sprinter Ben Swift eventually finishing 10th.

The result means there is no change at the top of general classification.
Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who won yesterday's stage, retains the red jersey with a 10-second lead over Froome (Team Sky).

Champagne moment: Degenkolb celebrates his third stage win

Champagne moment: Degenkolb celebrates his third stage win

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) lies third, 36 seconds adrift of the leader.

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Tour de France 2012: Bradley Wiggins set to win

Tour de France victory for Wiggins now a formality after sensational time trial win

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UPDATED:

16:55 GMT, 21 July 2012

Bradley Wiggins is set to become the first British winner of the Tour de France after an imperious victory in the stage 19 time-trial to Chartres.

In the 99th edition of the sport's most fabled race, the 32-year-old Londoner is poised to ride Sunday's 120-kilometre 20th stage from Rambouillet to the Champs-Elysees in Paris knowing he will return home victorious.

Triumphant roar: Bradley Wiggins celebrates after crossing the line

Triumphant roar: Bradley Wiggins celebrates after crossing the line

Top boys: Wiggins with team-mate Christopher Froome

Wiggins in action

Top boys: Wiggins with his team-mate Christopher Froome

Wiggins, a three-time Olympic champion,
began the 53.5km time-trial from Bonneval to Chartres with an advantage
of two minutes five seconds over Team Sky colleague Chris Froome and
enhanced his hold on the maillot jaune with a scintillating display
against the clock to take a 3mins 21secs lead into the final day.

Wiggins completed the route in one hour four minutes 12 seconds.

Tour delight: Wiggins celebrates winning stage 19

Tour delight: Wiggins celebrates winning stage 19

Froome was 1min 16secs slower in 1.05:29 to place second on the stage and all but confirm second place overall, with the final stage effectively a procession to the finish on the Champs-Elysees.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) is set to complete the podium despite not being in contention on Saturday. The Italian finished in 1.07:51 to place 16th on the stage, 3:38 behind Wiggins, and fall 6:19 adrift overall.

Out in front: Bradley Wiggins on his way to victory in the time trial as he closes in on victory in the Tour de France

Out in front: Bradley Wiggins on his way to victory in the time trial as he closes in on victory in the Tour de France

The margin of Wiggins' victory answered many of those who questioned why Froome, who appeared marginally stronger in the mountains, was not Team Sky's Tour leader.

Team Sky were launched in 2010 with the stated aim of winning the Tour with a clean British rider within five years – it is a target Dave Brailsford and his squad, through Wiggins, are set to achieve in three.

Froome is also on the verge of history – no Briton has finished on the Tour podium in 98 previous editions, with Wiggins' 2009 fourth place equalling Robert Millar's 1984 best. Now there are set to be two.
The last time two riders from the same nation finished first and second in the Tour was 1984, when Laurent Fignon finished ahead of Bernard Hinault.

Out in front: Wiggins will be the first Brit to win the Tour

Out in front: Wiggins will be the first Brit to win the Tour

Hinault's second place two years later behind Greg LeMond was the most recent time two team-mates held the top two positions in Paris.

Wiggins has been in stunning form this season, winning the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine stage races, and has carried his form into the Tour, which featured more than 100km against the clock.

He was second in the Tour's prologue on July 30 in Liege and has remained in the top two of the general classification since, taking the maillot jaune on stage seven and winning stage nine and today's penultimate stage.

Wiggins, wearing the maillot jaune for a 12th day, was the last of 153-strong peloton to roll down the starting ramp to begin a route south-west of Paris where there was a large British presence, with Union Flags heavily in evidence.

Buddies: Wiggins' team-mate Froome in action

Buddies: Wiggins' team-mate Froome in action

Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) began 88th and finished the route in 1.06:03 to be the early leader.
Wiggins was focused as he rolled down the start ramp into a familiar domain – against the clock – and assumed his time-trial position, a still upper body, legs pumping like pistons.

At the first time check, after 14km, Froome was fastest in 17:01, but Wiggins went 12 seconds quicker still.

Froome kept the pace up to lead at the second time check, after 30km, in 37:35, but again Wiggins was faster – this time by 54 seconds, in 36:41.

Froome and Wiggins maintained their remarkable pace in the final third of the route. Froome overhauled Sanchez to claim the fastest time but Wiggins, who began three minutes behind his team-mate, soon bettered it, leaving the Spaniard third on the stage.

Wiggins punched the air in delight as he crossed the line, knowing a lifelong goal is set to be achieved in 24 hours' time.

Let's go: Tour de France 2011 winner, Australia's Cadel Evans, gets his race underway

Let's go: Tour de France 2011 winner, Australia's Cadel Evans, gets his race underway

As well as being the display which all but secured the yellow jersey, Wiggins' was a performance which augured well for the Olympic time-trial on August 1, although some of his Hampton Court rivals were absent on Saturday.

Briton David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) completed the course in 1.10:35, Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) in 1.11:11 and Steve Cummings (BMC Racing) in 1.12:04.

Cavendish, who won stages two and 18, will be seeking to complete a stunning Tour for Britain on Sunday's processional stage, usually contested by the sprinters.

A bell tower is adorned with Tour support

Bearer: Peter Sagan of Slovakia, wearing the best sprinter's green jersey

Decorations: A bell tower adorned with mock leaders' jerseys, while Peter Sagan (right) has the green one on

The 27-year-old Manxman has completed the Tour three times and won on the Champs-Elysees on each occasion – in 2009, 2010 and 2011 – and it is likely Wiggins will be seen leading out Cavendish on the French capital's most famous boulevard.

BRADLEY WIGGINS FACTFILE

1980 – Born March 28 in Ghent, Belgium before growing up in London. Son of Australian former racing cyclist Gary Wiggins.
1992 – Begins track cycling at Herne Hill Velodrome, London.
1997 – Wins individual pursuit gold at Junior World Track Championships in Cuba.
2000: March – Silver in team pursuit at Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester.
October – Bronze in team pursuit at Olympic Games in Sydney.
2001: September – Silver in team pursuit at Track Cycling World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium.
2002: July – Silver for England in team pursuit and individual pursuit at Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Gold in individual pursuit at Track Cycling World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
2003: August – Silver in team pursuit at Track Cycling World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
September – Wins opening stage of Tour de l'Avenir.
2004: August – Olympic gold in individual pursuit at Athens Olympics. Also wins silver in team pursuit alongside Steve Cummings, Paul Manning and Rob Hayles and bronze in Madison alongside Rob Hayles to become first Briton since 1964 to win
three medals at one Games.

So close: Wiggins is virtually assured of victory

2005: May – Wins stage eight of Tour de l'Avenir.
2006: July – Makes Tour de France debut, riding for French team Cofidis.
2007: March – Wins gold in the individual pursuit and team pursuit at Track Cycling World Championships in Palma, Majorca.
June – Prologue victory in Dauphine Libere.
July – Finishes fourth in Tour de France prologue in London behind Swiss winner Fabian Cancellara but his team, Cofidis, later withdraw after team-mate Cristian Moreni fails a drugs test.
September – Individual pursuit gold at Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester.
2008: January – Wiggins' estranged father, Gary Wiggins, is discovered unconscious in New South Wales and later dies.
March – Wins individual pursuit, team pursuit and Madison gold at Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester.
August 16 – Successfully defends Olympic individual pursuit title with gold at the Laoshan Velodrome.
August 18 – Olympic team pursuit gold alongside Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas and Paul Manning in a world record of three minutes 53.314 seconds.
August 19 – Favourite for Olympic Madison alongside Mark Cavendish but ninth-placed finish results in Manxman suffering the ignominy of being the only member of GB's track team to leave the Laoshan Velodrome without a medal and has a public falling-out with Wiggins.
October – Releases autobiography titled 'In Pursuit of Glory' detailing his struggle with alcohol after Athens Games.

Wiggins leads the way

2009: July – Secures fourth place in Tour de France, matching highest-ever placing by a British rider.
September – Wins British Time-Trial Championship.
October – Wins stage five time-trial and overall title at Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Australia.
December 10 – Signs four-year deal with Team Sky, the BSkyB-backed road team which is being led by British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford.
2010: February 7 – Makes Team Sky debut at Tour of Qatar, helping squad to victory in the race's opening team time-trial.
March – Finishes third overall in the Tour of Murcia.
May – Wins Giro d'Italia prologue to become second Briton to wear race leader's pink jersey, the maglia rosa. The victory gives Team Sky a Grand Tour stage win at the first attempt.
July – Finishes 24th on Team Sky's Tour de France debut.
2011: March – Finishes third overall in Paris-Nice stage race.
May – Wins fourth stage of Bayern-Rundfahrt as team-mate Geraint Thomas wins overall.
June – Wins traditional Tour de France warm-up Criterium du Dauphine. Wins British Championships road race.
July 8 – Abandons Tour de France after fracturing collarbone in crash on seventh stage. Wiggins was sixth overall, 10 seconds behind race leader Thor Hushovd, entering the stage.
September – Finishes third overall at the Vuelta a Espana, with Team Sky colleague Chris Froome second. Finishes second in World Championships time-trial before helping Cavendish win the road race.
2012: February: Wins stage five of Volta ao Algarve.
March – Wins Paris-Nice overall, completing victory with win on stage eight.
April – Triumphs in Tour de Romandie, winning stages one and five.
June – Successfully defends his Criterium du Dauphine title and wins stage four time-trial for an unprecedented series of results.
July 7 – Takes the Tour de France yellow jersey after stage seven.
July 21 – Wins the time-trial on the Tour's penultimate day to all but secure victory ahead of the final stage, effectively a procession.

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Tour de France: Mark Cavendish wins stage 18

Cavendish sends timely reminder with stunning finish to notch second stage win

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UPDATED:

14:29 GMT, 20 July 2012

A sensational sprint finish saw Mark Cavendish claim the 22nd Tour de France stage success of his career in Brive-la-Gaillarde.

The 27-year-old from the Isle of Man equalled Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade in fourth place in the all-time rankings of Tour stage winners.

Bradley Wiggins, who retained a lead of two minutes five seconds at the top of the overall rankings as he seems ever more certain of becoming the first British winner of the Tour, played his part in leading Cavendish out at the end of the 222.5-kilometre route from Blagnac.

Brit special: Mark Cavendish crosses the finish line to win the 18th stage of the Tour de France

Brit special: Mark Cavendish crosses the finish line to win the 18th stage of the Tour de France

But the world champion had to use all his skill to negotiate his way around Luis-Leon Sanchez and Nicolas Roche, who were making a last-ditch bid to avoid a sprint finish, and power to a stunning triumph.

Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was second, with points classification leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) third.

Sanchez (Rabobank) was fourth, with Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) fifth.

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Tour de France 2012: Bradley Wiggins edges closer after stage 17

Wiggins edges closer to Tour de France victory with strong stage 17

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UPDATED:

16:01 GMT, 19 July 2012

Bradley Wiggins moved within three days of becoming the first British winner of the Tour de France after successfully negotiating the final day in the Pyrenees and putting further time on his rivals for glory.

Wiggins began the 143.5-kilometre route from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes in the yellow jersey for a 10th day and with a lead of two minutes five seconds over Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 18 seconds further adrift.

Getting nearer: Bradley Wiggins keeps the yellow jersey

Getting nearer: Bradley Wiggins keeps the yellow jersey

TOUR DE FRANCE

Click here for the overall classification

No other rider was within five minutes
of the triple Olympic champion and Nibali knew he had to make a move,
with Wiggins likely to perform better than him in Saturday's penultimate
day time-trial.

But Wiggins, with able support from Froome, distanced Nibali on the finishing ascent.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the stage, Froome was 19 seconds behind in second place, with Wiggins on his wheel in third.

Nibali finished 37 seconds behind in seventh, conceding 18 seconds to Wiggins and falling 2mins 41secs behind.

Friday's 222.5km 18th stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde features three classified climbs, but could end in a sprint.

Team-mates: Chris Froome held back to cross the line with Wiggins

Team-mates: Chris Froome held back to cross the line with Wiggins

Valverde led in the closing stages of the route as Wiggins took to the front of an eight-man group 4km from the summit of the day's final ascent, the 15.4km climb to Peyragudes.

Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) attacked, increasing the pace, before Froome took to the front, keeping the tempo high.

The relentless pace saw the group disintegrate and Nibali lost contact 3km from the summit.
Froome forged on and Wiggins latched on to his wheel.

The Team Sky duo pushed on as their rivals lost touch and the Britons closed in on Valverde.
Froome implored Wiggins to keep up, eager to distance Nibali in his own
bid to make it on to the podium – something no Briton has done before in
98 previous Tours.

Mountain mist: Wiggins speeds down Mente pass in dense fog

Mountain mist: Wiggins speeds down Mente pass in dense fog

Triumph: Alejandro Valverde won the stage

Triumph: Alejandro Valverde won the stage

Valverde passed through 2km to go with an advantage of 40 seconds and Froome continued to push.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Bigmat) bridged
the gap to the Team Sky duo, with Froome leading Wiggins and Nibali
struggling to stay in contact.

Froome and Wiggins pushed forward as
they finished second and third on the stage to enhance their places at
the top of the general classification standings.

Pinot was fourth, three seconds
further adrift, with Pierre Rolland (Europcar) fifth and Van den Broeck
sixth, both 26 seconds behind Valverde.

Van den Broeck remained fourth, but fell 5:53 behind Wiggins.

The pack: Wiggins looks likely to win the Tour de France

The pack: Wiggins looks likely to win the Tour de France

Scenic route: Wiggins cycles past various animals

Scenic route: Wiggins cycles past various animals

The final mountain day of the 99th Tour was a late opportunity to eat into Wiggins' advantage.

Nibali made a short-lived move on the descent of the day's opening climb, the 9.3km category one ascent of the Col de Menthe, but was rejected by the seven-man breakaway group, who believed his presence would end their escape.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) had beaten Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), his nearest rival for the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey, to the top and did so again on the category two Col des Ares and category three Cote de Burs.

Nibali's Liquigas-Cannondale team led the peloton and kept the pace high on the fiendishly steep Port de Bales.

Four Team Sky riders and Wiggins were immediately behind. Up ahead Valverde and his team-mate Rui Costa joined forces and forged forward. Valverde powered on alone and went over the summit 2:25 ahead of the peloton.

Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Costa, who made a wrong turn at the foot of the final climb, were in pursuit of Valverde as the peloton swept up the rest of the day's break.

On your marks... Riders wait at the start of stage 17

On your marks… Riders wait at the start of stage 17

The tempo set by the maillot jaune group saw Martinez and Costa caught and with Valverde the only rider up the road, Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) made a late attempt to catch the Spaniard.

Defending champion Cadel Evans lost touch with the maillot jaune, leaving his BMC Racing team-mate Tejay van Garderen alongside 14 others.

Van den Broeck attacked with the peak of the Col de Peyresourde in sight, with Rolland and Pinot going with him.

Vanendert was quickly caught and Nibali, Wiggins, Froome and Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) bridged the gap.

Pinot then took the initiative, stringing out the group in the mist before the short downhill section and the final 3.6km climb to the finish, where Wiggins and Froome enhanced their positions in first and second place overall.

More to follow.

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Tour de France 2012: David Millar wins stage 12

Millar magic cements Brit dominance at Le Tour as Wiggins retains yellow jersey

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UPDATED:

16:14 GMT, 13 July 2012

David Millar out-sprinted his breakaway companions to claim victory on Tour de France stage 12.

Twelve years after winning the prologue on his Tour debut, the 35-year-old Scot was triumphant on the 226-kilometre route from Saint-Jean de Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux after a day-long escape.

Millar (Garmin-Sharp) won the dash to the line from Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), who finished second after the duo broke clear of their other breakaway companions in the final 3km.

Crossing the line: David Millar lets out a roar after winning stage 12 of the Tour de France

Crossing the line: David Millar lets out a roar after winning stage 12 of the Tour de France

Spent: Millar collapses after crossing the finishing line

Spent: Millar collapses after crossing the finishing line

Tour de France – results and standings

Click here for the complete rundown

It was the fourth British stage win of the 2012 Tour after victories for Team Sky trio Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.

Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won the sprint for third place, five seconds behind Millar, with Cyril Gautier (Europcar) fourth and Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) fifth.

The peloton contested the race for sixth, with Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) beating Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), who was frustrated by the Australian apparently veering off his line in the finale. It was possible Goss would be relegated for the manoeuvre.

Wiggins was part of the peloton which
rolled in seven minutes 54 seconds behind Millar and retained the race
leader's yellow jersey for a fifth day.

Big finish: David Millar (right) gets the better of Jean-Christophe Peraud in a sprint to the line

Big finish: David Millar (right) gets the better of Jean-Christophe Peraud in a sprint to the line

Froome
remained second, 2mins 5secs behind, with Vincenzo Nibali
(Liquigas-Cannondale) 2:23 back in third and defending champion Cadel
Evans (BMC Racing) 3:19 adrift in fourth.

But
the day – the 45th anniversary of the death of Britain's first maillot
jaune, Tom Simpson – belonged to Millar, the most recent Briton to lead
the Tour before Wiggins.

It was an emotional success after a
two-year suspension following his admission in 2004 that he took the
banned blood-booster EPO.

Millar,
now a fervent anti-doping campaigner, won the 13th stage to Bezier in
2002, but asked for his time-trial win on stage 19 in 2003 to be wiped
from the record books after his confession.

His
attempt to win in Barcelona on a solo escape in 2009 was snuffed out by
the peloton, but now he has his third triumph in his 11th Tour.

And they're off: Garmin-Sharp's David Millar leads as riders break away

And they're off: Garmin-Sharp's David Millar leads as riders break away

Two
weeks on Saturday Millar is set to compete in his first Olympics in 12
years after the British Olympic Association's bylaw banning those with
prior doping bans was scrapped.

Millar was in the early break on the longest day of the 99th Tour.

The route was always likely to favour
an escape, with two category one climbs early on and a category three
ascent in the final 20km as the peloton headed south and the general
classification contenders recovered from their Alpine excursion.

The Scot was one of 11 riders in the
lead after 60km, with the best-placed overall Kiserlovski (Astana), who
began the day 28:43 behind Wiggins.

Millar was fourth over the day's
second first category climb, the Col du Granier, and attacked on the
descent as a group of five leaders formed.

Poised: David Milar is on the right, ready to make his move on stage 12 of the Tour de France

Poised: David Milar is on the right, ready to make his move on stage 12 of the Tour de France

He was joined by Kiserlovski, Martinez, Peraud and Gautier and the quintet established a substantial lead.

The five leaders were more than 11
minutes ahead with 86km of the stage remaining as world champion
Cavendish, among the riders dropped earlier when ascending the major
peaks, returned to the peloton.

Cavendish opted not to contest the
intermediate sprint and fell further behind green jersey incumbent Sagan
(Liquigas-Cannondale).

The world champion, who was
performing bottle-fetching duties for Team Sky, then punctured and was
reprimanded by race commissaries for passing by team support vehicles on
the wrong side when returning to the peloton.

Horse power: Young fans watch the riders on stage 12 of the Tour de France

Horse power: Young fans watch the riders on stage 12 of the Tour de France

Millar was the only previous stage winner in the break, which had a 12:10 advantage over the peloton with 25km to go.

The quintet crested the summit of the
short, sharp category three climb of the Cote d'Ardoix together, but
with a long uphill drag to the finish, further drama was expected.

With 3km to go Millar led, but he and
his companions played a watchful role before Peraud accelerated
forward. Millar followed him, but the other three could not.

Millar and Peraud had a lead of more than 50 metres which was increasing as they went under the 2km to go mark.

As you were: Bradley Wiggins has kept hold of the yellow jersey

As you were: Bradley Wiggins has kept hold of the yellow jersey

Up and away: The pack, with Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey, passes vineyards towards Granier

Up and away: The pack, with Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey, passes vineyards towards Granier

The chasing trio appeared reluctant
to work together and Peraud and Millar were also lacking cooperation
when the Scot took to the front.

Peraud made his bid for victory with
200m to go, but Millar summoned the strength to hold off his younger
companion and punched the air with delight before collapsing in
exhaustion over the line.

It proved he was back to full form after fracturing his collarbone in March.

Now all four of Britain's Olympic
road race team riding the Tour have won a stage. Ian Stannard will
complete the five-man line-up on July 28 but was not selected by Team
Sky.

Further British success could follow
tomorrow, with Cavendish eyeing the 217km 13th stage from
Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Cap d'Agde, on the shores of the
Mediterranean.

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Tour de France 2012: Mark Cavendish crashes out

Manx Missile grounded as Cav crashes to dent Tour hopes in stage four

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UPDATED:

16:14 GMT, 4 July 2012

World champion Mark Cavendish's bid for a 22nd Tour de France stage win was ended by a crash as Andre Greipel won stage four to Rouen.

In the close-packed bunch, Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Sharp) spectacularly tumbled over his handlebars fracturing the peloton with around 2.7 kilometres to go of the 214.5km route from Abbeville.

The incident delayed more than two thirds of the peloton, but Greipel had support from his Lotto-Belisol team as he claimed a sprint victory. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) was second, with Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) third.

Down and out: Mark Cavendish was left bruised and battered by a crash on stage four of the Tour

Down and out: Mark Cavendish was left bruised and battered by a crash on stage four of the Tour

Cavendish (Team Sky) was seeking to draw level with Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade by adding to his 21 Tour stage wins, but was seen gingerly picking himself up off the tarmac, his world champion's jersey in tatters and ripped across the back.

Cavendish crossed more than four minutes behind Greipel, but apparently with no more than superficial injuries.

As the collision occurred inside the final 3km of the stage, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) retained the race leader's maillot jaune.

Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) comprised the day's three-man breakaway, which began in the opening kilometre.

Wheely good views: Stage four of the Tour goes from Abbeville to Rouen in north-western France

Wheely good views: Stage four of the Tour goes from Abbeville to Rouen in north-western France

Wheely good views: Stage four of the Tour goes from Abbeville to Rouen in north-western France

Japan's Arashiro led the trio over the intermediate line in Fecamp with 74.5km of the stage remaining.

The peloton followed six minutes later, with Cavendish leading the sprint over the line.

Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and maillot vert Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) followed.

The result saw Cavendish move into second place in the points classification standings behind Sagan, the winner of stages one and three, who took nine points.

Man in mirror: Fabian Cancellara, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, was in the mix

Man in mirror: Fabian Cancellara, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, was in the mix

The Manxman moved to 86 points, with Slovakian Sagan going to 125.

The peloton then increased the tempo in pursuit of the escapees, with Team Sky, BMC Racing, Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto-Belisol to the fore.

A handful of riders broke out of the peloton in an attempt to bridge the gap with 10km to go, and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) stayed clear on the final descent into Rouen.

Leading the way: Andre Greipel eventually surged to glory

Leading the way: Andre Greipel eventually surged to glory

It was a forlorn break, though, as the sprinters' teams set to work and the peloton soaked up the trio with 3km remaining.

Just as the teams sought to get their teams in position for the finale, an innocuous stage turned sour with a large crash.

With Cavendish down, Greipel was able to avoid the crash and surge to victory, while Sagan, winner of stage one and three, added to his points haul by finishing fifth.

Cancellara rolled in well down alongside Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), who remained second overall, seven seconds behind.

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Ian Stannard finishes 7th in Tirreno-Adriatico time trial

Sky's Stannard finishes behind leaders in Tirreno-Adriatico time trial

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UPDATED:

18:13 GMT, 13 March 2012

In the hunt: Ian Stannard of Sky finished 7th

In the hunt: Ian Stannard of Sky finished 7th

Team Sky's Ian Stannard finished seventh in today's final time-trial stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico as Italy's Vincenzo Nibali stole the overall win.

Stannard completed the 9.3 kilometre course in Benedetto del Tronto in 10 minutes and 54 seconds – 18secs off pacesetter Fabian Cancellara's time.

Nibali was slower than the Team Sky man, finishing two places further back, but that was enough for the Liquigas-Cannondale rider to leap ahead of Chris Horner and claim the title by 14secs.

Thomas Lofkvist was the best-placed Team Sky rider in 14th place overall while the 24-year-old Stannard's performance today provided a boost ahead of Saturday's Milan-San Remo.

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Mark Cavendish wins second stage of Tirreno-Adriatico

Cavendish wins second stage of
the Tirreno-Adriatico

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UPDATED:

18:48 GMT, 8 March 2012

Mark Cavendish won the second stage of
the Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday to claim his fourth victory of what he
hopes will be a momentous 2012 season.

The Team Sky rider from the Isle of
Man's late sprint took him past Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) at the
end of the 230-kilometre stage from San Vincenzo to Indicatore.

Two easy: Britain's Mark Cavendish celebrates stage win

Two easy: Britain's Mark Cavendish celebrates stage win

Farrar was also overtaken by Oscar Freire (Katusha) with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) in fourth.

Matthew Goss, who finished runner-up behind Cavendish at the World Championships in Copenhagen, leads the overall standings, with Cavendish building up to the Milan-San Remo race next weekend.

The peloton was split by a crash 1.6km before the finish and Cavendish, in the front group, triumphed in a sprint finish. Cavendish won two stages on the Tour of Qatar and one in the Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne race.

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Mark Cavendish makes Sky debut Tour of Qatar

Cavendish climbs from sickbed to make Team Sky debut in Tour of Qatar

Debut: Sky's Mark Cavendish

Debut: Sky's Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish made his first competitive appearance in a Team Sky jersey in the Tour of Qatar on Sunday.

The Manxman, who switched to the British-run team after winning the Tour de France's green jersey and the world championships last year, had fallen ill on the flight to Doha but was given the all-clear by team doctors.

Team Sky sports director Steven de Jongh said: 'Our medical team have done a fantastic job in looking after him and Mark has followed their advice to the letter.

'Clearly, he's not going to be at his best in the next few days but we're hoping he'll get stronger with every passing stage.

'We'll continue to keep a very close eye on him but hopefully he's over the worst of it now.'

Unsurprisingly, Cavendish did not feature in the first stage, a 142.5 kilometres ride from Barzan Towers to the College of the North Atlantic, which was won by Belgian former world champion Tom Boonen.

The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider took
the line ahead of Adam Blythe (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan
(Liquigas-Cannondale) in third.

Countdown: Bernard Eiseil and Cavendish prior to the first stage

Countdown: Bernard Eiseil and Cavendish prior to the first stage

De Jongh added: 'He (Cavendish) was helping out his team-mates during the race, which was a pleasant surprise because we'd told him he didn't have to do anything if he didn't feel he was up to it after his illness.

'Our only goal for him was that he finished the stage today, and he did that comfortably.'