Nicolas Roche almost pulled off an incredible stage win on stage 18 of the Tour de France only to see his late attack snuffed out by a rocket powered sprint from world champion Mark Cavendish.
Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) attacked on the final climb of the day as the peloton closed in on what remained of a sixteen-man escape group with just ten kilometres to the finish in Brive la Gaillarde.
By the summit he was just a handful of seconds off the pace set by a trio of riders comprising Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) and Luca Paolini (Katusha).
His hopes of clawing his way back into the top ten were patrolled by Andreas Kloden (Radioshack-Nissan) who lies just one place behind him at 12th in the GC with Luis Leon Sanchez (Raboank) joining them on the descent.
They bridged to the three leaders with 5.5 kilometres to go although their lead over the chasing peloton was never more than a handful of seconds as the Lotto-Belisol, Sky and Orica-GreenEdge teams fought to bring their sprinters back into contention.
Roche rode hard to maintain the gap, attacking the leaders with 500 metres to go just as race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) completed his turn at the head of Cavendish’s lead out train.
Sheer guts saw him hold off Sanchez but the Spaniard was getting back on terms when Cavendish put an end to that battle by sorching past the duo with less than 150 metres to the line.
Sanchez was clearly amazed by the Manx man’s feat is closing the gap and could do little to respond as Cavendish celebrated his second stage win in this year’s race by a handful of bike lengths.
Roche dug in to claim fifth place and while his fighting spirit was certainly commendable he will be disappointed not to have made a dent in his bid to make his way back into the top ten overall.
Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) had a more relaxed finish placing 61st having come home just sixteen seconds down.
Tour de France
Stage 18: Blagnac – Brive la Gaillarde, 222 kilometres
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 4:54:12
2. Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
4. Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
6. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp
7. Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
8. Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
10. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
66. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 16 seconds
General classification after stage 18:
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 83:22:18
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:41
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:53
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:08:30
6. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:09:57
7. Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:10:11
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:10:17
9. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:11:00
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:11:46
11. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 12 minutes, 54 seconds
35. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 1 hour, 20 minutes, 42 seconds