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Cavendish bounces back with sprint win

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Briton Mark Cavendish claims victory in the fifth stage of the Tour de France
  • The HTC-Columbia rider secures his first success of this year's contest on Thursday
  • Fabian Cancellara finishes in the peloton to retain the overall leader's yellow jersey
  • Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong also finish safely in main pack

(CNN) -- Briton Mark Cavendish blew away his sprint rivals to win the fifth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday -- dispelling doubts about his current form.

The HTC-Columbia rider, who sat up when well beaten in Wednesday's sprint finish, bounced back in devastating fashion to cross the line first at the end of the flat 187.5km run from Epernay to Montargis.

Germany's Gerald Ciolek finished second while Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen took third place. Norway's Thor Hushovd finished fifth to keep hold of the sprinter's green jersey that he won last year.

There was no change in the overall classification with Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara finishing safely in the peloton to retain his 23-second advantage over Briton Geraint Thomas with world champion Cadel Evans a further 16-seconds adrift in third position.

Defending champion Alberto Contador and seven-time winner Lance Armstrong also finished safely in the main pack and remain ninth and 18th overall.

All that pressure that has built up through the year has finally been lifted
--Mark Cavendish
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Cavendish, who won six stages in last year's Tour, has had a troubled season, suffering with a tooth condition and being accused of causing a major pile-up in last month's Tour of Switzerland.

Another crash in the Tour's opening stage, plus Wednesday's poor 12th-placed finish, raised more doubts as to whether the 25-year-old could repeat his victory haul from the 2009 race.

But Cavendish answered those questions in devastating style as he powered clear of his rivals after being placed to perfection by lead-out man Mark Renshaw.

"All that pressure that has built up through the year has finally been lifted. For sure, I'm going to try and win more stages but thank god the work paid off today," an emotional Cavendish -- who wept tears of joy on the podium after the race -- told the official Tour website.

"All I did was follow Mark Renshaw. He was fighting and fighting with everyone but he got me there and dropped me off at the line perfectly," he added.

The final kilometer apart, Thursday's stage saw relatively little action with no major crashes that have marred some of the earlier stages.

Three riders, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Julien El Fares and Jurgen van de Walle launched a breakaway with just 9km gone and, at one stage, held an advantage over nearly eight minutes before the peloton reeled them in with just 5km remaining.