Mark Cavendish stuck two fingers up to his critics – in a metaphorical sense this time – with victory on the fifth stage of the Tour de France.
The 25-year-old HTC-Columbia sprinter recorded his 11th Tour win in three seasons, having twice in the 97th edition of cycling’s most prestigious race failed to deliver.
Cavendish bounced back from Sunday’s crash and yesterday’s 12th-placed finish with a success on the 187.5-kilometres stage from Epernay to Montargis, with Gerald Ciolek (Team Milram) second and Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen third for a second straight day.
Points classification leader Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) was fifth to retain the green jersey.
Ireland's Nicolas Roche of AG2R La Mondiale was 14th in today's stage leaving him 11th in GC, 1 minute and 42 seconds off the yellow jersey.
Cavendish has endured a torrid time since winning on the Champs Elysees - including being withdrawn from the Tour de Romandie for a two-fingered salute - and he crashed 3km out from the finish on the opening road stage last Sunday before yesterday's poor showing, when he appeared unable to accelerate with the finish line at his mercy.
Although the maillot vert may already be lost with Cavendish well adrift of Hushovd and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese), today’s win went some way to answering some of the question marks over his form.
The general classification standings remained unchanged on a sweltering day south of Paris, where the temperatures soared to 40C (104F).
Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank) retained the yellow jersey ahead of Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in second and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in third after six days of action.
Alberto Contador (Astana) stayed ninth, with Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack) 18th.
Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins stayed in 14th place overall, despite falling in the neutralised zone as the peloton meandered through Epernay.
The riders follow a parade route out of the start town each day before racing begins.
And deep in champagne country, Wiggins took a tumble 7km into the stage to Montargis.
Team Sky reported Wiggins was in slight pain, but okay to continue and their leader swiftly rejoined the peloton.
The 30-year-old Londoner was among a huge swathe of riders to fall on slippery roads on the Tour’s second road stage on Monday, suffering abrasions, but the pain of today’s tumble may be more embarrassment than anything else.
A three-man breakaway began in the opening stages and was swallowed up with 8km to the finish, despite Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) attempting a late dart away, which lasted until the 4km mark.
The pace was low on a stifling hot day, which was always going to be about the sprinters.
A sight familiar in the 2008 and 2009 Tours then came to the fore – the HTC-Columbia train, with Mark Renshaw handing on to Cavendish to sprint for the line.
It was 11th Tour stage win after four in 2008 and six in 2009, when he missed out on the points classification’s green jersey to Hushovd by 10 points.
Yesterday the HTC-Columbia train disintegrated and Cavendish was unable to power away, fading to finish 12th behind Petacchi.
And today Team Garmin-Transitions and Cervelo Test Team attempted to disrupt it once more.
But Renshaw and Cavendish combined to secure the Manx Missile’s fourth win of the season.