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Cav Prepares to Pounce

Credit (c)Tim De Waele

After four days in the mountains, HTC-Columbia got some much-deserved R & R today as the Tour enjoyed its second rest day. With just a handful of flat stages, the route for this year’s Tour didn’t favor sprinters, but the Manx Missile and his stellar support squad have done a bang-up job of making the most of their opportunities, racking up three stage victories to date.

As the final days of the Tour draw near, Cavendish will be laser-focused on bagging the most coveted prize a sprinter can bring home from France: a win on the Champs-Élysées on the final day in Paris. But before the race rolls in for the big finale, there will be one more shot for glory: a flat stage from Salies-de-Béarn to Bordeaux on Friday. Look for Columbia-HTC to control the 198k (123 mile) race and send Bernhard Eisel to lead the charge when the peloton soars into the final few kilometers.

As for Sunday, Cav won the coveted stage in Paris last year and will be keen to repeat his performance.  Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre Farnese Vini) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) will undoubtedly try to spoil the party, but rival Tyler Farrar will not be in the mix. The Garmin Slipstream rider was forced to  abandon the Tour earlier this week when the pain of his broken wrist became too great to ignore.

GC Update: The Drama Intensifies

The battle for the overall race lead heated up earlier this week as Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) went head to head on the slopes of the Pyrenees. In a somewhat contentious turn of events, Schleck dropped his chain as he accelerated to launch an attack. Contador surged ahead as Schleck stood on the side of the road attempting to fix his bicycle, putting 30 seconds into his rival. Contador ultimately took the race lead by eight seconds in the overall standings, assuming control of the yellow jersey.

Many in the cycling world believe that attacking the yellow jersey during a mechanical problem or crash is bad form and the aftermath of the Stage 16 has upped the ante on the growing drama between the two men.

Schleck has vowed to take revenge during tomorrow’s mountain-top finish up the storied Tourmalet. Even if he’s able to regain control of the race lead, he’ll need to win tomorrow’s stage by a healthy margin if he has any hope of carrying the maillot juane jaune all the way to Paris – Contador is notoriously dominant in individual time-trials and the 52km TT stage that is scheduled for Saturday will undoubtedly favor the powerful Spaniard.

However you look at it, we’re in for some quality bike racing over the next few days as Cavendish vies for the top spot in Paris and the GC contenders launch their last-ditch attempts to win the biggest cycling race in the world.

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