BRIVE-LA-GAILLARDE // British sprint king Mark Cavendish admitted yesterday that chasing the Tour de France yellow jersey with Team Sky this year has left him feeling like a fish out of water.
But any doubts about whether his top-end speed had faded due to his lack of sprint opportunities this year proved misplaced when he surged to an impressive 22nd career win in the race.
"It's great to be part of the team, what they're doing this year, but it obviously puts me in a difficult situation," said Cavendish, who now has two stage wins on this edition after previously winning Stage 2.
"I'm part of a team but I'm not doing what I can do as an individual rider.
"It's like Wayne Rooney playing in defence. You can still win the match but you can't do your part of that to the best of your ability."
With the yellow jersey firmly on teammate Bradley Wiggins' shoulders and unlikely to budge ahead of tomorrow's 20th and final stage to Paris, Cavendish had been itching for some glory of his own.
But even his efforts during a tough Sky bid to secure the race's big prize did not give him automatic carte blanche. Before the start yesterday, he had to plead with sports director Sean Yates.
"It would have been easy for my guys to cruise into Paris now after the mountains but on the bus Sean Yates said this morning: 'Just take it easy today if the break goes,'" explained Cavendish, from the Isle of Man. "But I said, 'Can I have a sprint please? Just let me have a sprint!' Then Bradley [Wiggins] piped up and said we'd do the sprint."
Sky played their tactics to perfection, sending Edvald Boasson Hagen into the early breakaway to give them options if the powerful Norwegian rider managed to go all the way and contend the finish.
But when it became apparent his group would be caught, Sky changed tack.
Now facing the impressive lead-out train of Lotto rival Andre Greipel, Cavendish knew they would have to get their timing right, especially as Lotto man Adam Hansen had jumped out of the breakaway in a late bid for victory.
Cavendish added: "We didn't want to catch the break too early because Lotto had Hansen in the front and if we caught them with one kilometre to go then Lotto would have come with a whole train [of riders].
"So we had to catch them as close to the line as possible."
After a brief surge by Hansen, the Australian was overtaken by Irishman Nicolas Roche and Stage 14 winner Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain.
But Cavendish soon put paid to their hopes of duelling for the win.
Despite knowing the peloton was closing in, they could only gesture in disbelief as the "Manx Missile" flew solo past them metres before the finish.
As a treat for the top 20 riders in the general classification, Roche was appeased with a helicopter ride to today's stage in Chartes.
It was just his and Sanchez's bad luck that Cavendish, who is expected to go for a fourth consecutive Champs Elysees stage win tomorrow, was feeling hungry.
"When you're used to winning five stages a year every year, it can make you hungry for sprints," he added.
"Today we set it up and scored the goal. It's probably a good thing that I could show how fast I was."
Meanwhile, former Tour de France podium finisher Frank Schleck has confirmed that a second 'B' sample has tested positive for a banned diuretic.
Luxembourger Schleck, who finished third on the race last year, quit the Tour on Tuesday after being informed by the International Cycling Union of a positive test for Xipamide.
After witnessing the analysis at the laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry, France, Schleck said: "The result of the counter test was positive but for me nothing changes: I just know that I did nothing wrong.
"I will therefore continue my search to find out how the substance could have entered my body."