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ISSOUDUN, France - Britain's Mark Cavendish powered to his third win of the 2009 Tour de France's 10th stage yesterday as the peloton raced for the first time in years without their race radios.
Italian cyclist Rinaldo Nocentini, of AG2R, retained the overall leader's yellow jersey with his 6 sec lead on pre-race favourite Alberto Contador intact.
The Spaniard's Astana teammate, seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, is third overall as the race heads towards the second set of mountain stages on Friday.
The first Tour stage for nearly 15 years to be held entirely without the radio earpieces, through which team managers can communicate with their riders, was expected to set the scene for some drama.
However, there was a distinct lack of excitement as the peloton resumed racing after a rest day and three tough days in the Pyrenees mountains.
A four-man group broke away early in the 194,5km stage between Limoges to Issoudun, and the bunch simply toyed with them before upping the tempo in the final kilometres. The last of the quartet, Thierry Hupond of Skil, was reeled in inside the final kilometre as the Columbia duo of George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw helped set up the win for their lead sprinter.
As has usually been the scenario in each of Cavendish's wins in the race this year, Columbia played a crucial role in delivering their star sprinter as close to the finish line as possible.
And once Hincapie, then Renshaw moved aside, Cavendish finished off the job by leaving sprint rival Thor Hushovd of Cervelo no chance.
So far this year it's Cavendish 3 Hushovd 1, although the Norwegian's second-place finish gave him 30 points that enabled him to keep the points competition's green jersey with a six-point cushion over Cavendish.
"There was a slight incline in the last kilometre, we knew that was coming and we had to go early," said Cavendish. "We knew we just had to be in the front. I think we were the only team that kept our formation."
Despite organisers hoping this stage would give breakaway riders the chance to show some racing initiative, the three Frenchmen and one Russian rider who escaped in the first kilometres failed to shake up the peloton.
Having reached a maximum lead of nearly four minutes after 27km, the teams of the sprinters aiming to organise a bunch finish gradually moved to the front and their pace soon had the deficit down to 1:32 with 79km to race.
With only 20km from the finish and with a 28sec lead Benoit Vaugrenard, Samuel Dumoulin, Thierry Hupond and Mikhail Ignatiev were within the peloton's sights. They put in a final effort but with Columbia, Milram, Quick Step and Liquigas taking turns it was only a matter of time before they were reeled in.
In the end the lack of race radios - which some believe prompted the peloton to ride slowly as a kind of protest - seemed not to play a decisive role.
"The fact we didn't have any radio earpieces today didn't change a thing, it was really a sprinters' stage," Dumoulin said. - AFP