The Tour de France officially left the Alps on Thursday's Stage 11, with a mostly downhill, 119-mile course, meaning it was time relax and exhale after a tough few days in the mountains. It also meant that it was time for the sprinters to re-emerge. The finish set-up perfectly for a mass sprint, and for the third time in 2010, it was HTC-Columbia perfectly positioning Mark Cavendish for another win.
Another long, hot day on the roads of France ended in familiar fashion, with Mark Cavendish blasting the field in a sprint, notching his third victory of the Tour de France. Alessandro Petacchi snuck past Thor Hushovd into the Green Jersey with his second place, while Tyler Farrar got a bit stuck in traffic before finishing third.
It was Cavendish's 13th career stage win in the Tour de France, tied for 13th most wins all-time, but it was not without controversy.
Mark Renshaw, Cavendish's teammate and widely considered to be the best lead-out man in cycling, was seen head-butting Julian Dean, Team Garmin-Transition's lead-out rider for Tyler Farrar, during the final 400m of the sprint, and then also seemingly tried to block the advance of Farrar (who finished third). For his actions, Renshaw was immediately disqualified from the stage, and after further review, he was also completely kicked out of the Tour.
Top race official Jean-Francois Pescheux said after the race: "Renshaw was declassified immediately but we have decided to also throw him off the race.
"We've only seen the pictures once, but his actions are plain for all to see. This is a bike race, not a gladiator's arena."
Pescheux added: "He head-butted Dean like in a keirin race. This is cycling, not fighting. Everybody could have ended up on their backs."
It should be very interesting to see how Cavendish and HTC-Columbia perform with no Renshaw, especially with at least three more stages likely to end in a sprint.
Meanwhile, the big name riders all were in the peloton, so no changes among the general classification.
General Classification After Stage 11:
1. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank
2. Alberto Contador, Astana (+ 00:41)
3. Sammy Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi (+ 02:45)
4. Denis Menchov, Rabobank (+ 02:58)
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto (+ 03:31)
6. Levi Leipheimer, Radioshack (+ 03:59)
32. Lance Armstrong, Radioshack (+ 17:51)
Friday's Stage 12 is a hilly ride from Bourg-de-Péage to Mende, stretching roughly 131 miles. There is a pair of second-category and a trio of third-category climbs before the day finishes with the Col de la Croix before it flattens out atop Mende's aerodrome.
For more, visit our cycling blog, Podium Cafe, for all things Tour de France (like that neat stage profile above).