- Tour de France, Stage 12
Cavendish pipped by Kittel as Froome retains lead
Mark Cavendish issued a solid response to the continuing fallout over his Stage 10 collision with Tom Veelers, finishing second to Marcel Kittel by the narrowest of margins in Stage 12 of the 100th Tour de France.
It took a photo finish to determine who had crossed the line first following the pulsating sprint finish - Kittel taking his third stage of this year's race just inches ahead of the Manxman.
Chris Froome finished safely within the main group - 12th overall - to retain the yellow jersey while Peter Sagan finished third to earn more big points in the chase for the green jersey.
It ended a nightmare couple of days for Cavendish, who had urine thrown at him during Stage 11 following his altercation with Veelens on Tuesday.
Stage 12 comprised of a long, primarily flat 218 kilometre stretch from Fougeres to Tours - very much a stage for the sprinters.
Five riders entertained the first breakaway, quickly racing into a five minute lead over the chasing peloton - although none of them placed high enough to trouble the overall lead of Froome, who spent the majority of the stretch safely tucked in the main pack.
Stage 11 individual time-trial winner Tony Martin had little time to reflect on his victory, becoming main water carrier for his Omega Pharma team-mates Cavendish and co.
Blel Kadri provided the only notable drama midway through the stretch - spectacularly flying over his handle bars, but continued unscathed. Argos rider Gatis Smukulis became another faller during the feed zone - having to sample a grazed knee with his sandwiches.
Team Sky continued to offer protection to Froome as the group entered the final 100km. Astana rider Francesco Gavazzi was first to cross the line of the intermediate sprint, claiming the 20 points on offer in the race for the green jersey - narrowly pipping Juan Antonio Flecha.
The peloton edged closer as the familiar sprint group of Cavendish, Sagan and Andre Greipel looked to compete for the remainder of the points - the Brit finishing first in the chasing pack, edging Greipel at the split while Sagan was left angry after being held up by a trailing Vacansoleil rider.
With 15km to go Alberto Contador and the Saxo-Tinkoff team led Team Sky and Froome as the peloton finally caught the breakaway - Flecha the sole survivor soon reeled in within the 6km marker.
Froome narrowly avoided a huge crash within the closing stages, which saw several riders end on top of each other within the chaos, before finishing safely in the peloton to retain his lead.
Meanwhile, Cavendish has been told that he is not welcome at the Boxmeer Criterium - a Dutch one-day race held as one of the many lucrative events following the Tour, to which the riders are invited.
The race takes place on July 22, one day after the scheduled finish of Le Tour in Paris, but Cavendish has not been invited by race organisers due to his involvement in the Stage 10 crash with Dutchman Veelers.
Stage 12 result
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Argos-Shimano
2. Mark Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
5. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida
6. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEdge
7. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar
8. Yohann Gene (Fra) Europcar
9. Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
General Classification after Stage 12
1.Christopher Froome (GB) Team Sky 47hr 19min 13sec
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team +3min 25sec
3. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin +3min 37sec
4. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff +3min 54sec
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Saxo-Tinkoff +3min 57sec
6. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin +4min 10sec
7. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma +4min 44sec
8. Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar +5min 18sec
9. Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar +5min 37sec
10. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale +5min 39sec