Mark Cavendish of San Luis Obispo-based Team HTC Highroad won today's fifth stage of the Tour de France by barely edging out Phillipe Gilbert in a furious sprint to the finish.
For Cavendish, of Great Britain, it was his first win in this year's tour and his 16th overall in the race, professional cycling's biggest event.
It also marked the first time HTC-Highroad has placed a rider on the podium in this first week of the tour.
Cavendish covered the 101-mile course in 3:38.32. Gilbert, of the Omega Pharma-Lotto team, took second with the same time.
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"I am really happy. It was a difficult finish," said Cavendish. "I put every thing into it ... If we win, it's not because we're lucky, it's because we're good."
Thor Hushhovd of Team Garmin-Cervelo kep the yellow jersey as the race's overall leader.
The top standings didn't change because the vast majority of riders crossed in a pack right behind the sprinters. Hushovd kept his one-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia in second. Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is third overall, 4 seconds back.
The ride was mostly marked by crashes that brought down some of the biggest names in the pack, which shrank to 195 riders after two competitors dropped with injuries.
"It was very nervous, and because of that you get a lot of crashes, because there are 200 riders who want to be in front," said Hushovd.
Defending champion Alberto Contador went down briefly but returned -- with a tear on the left shoulder of his Saxo Bank team jersey. Many riders were jostling to stay at the front, setting the stage for possible spills.
The Spanish three-time Tour champion was entangled in a crash about the 44-mile mark and took off his helmet briefly, then gave a thumbs-up to signal that he was all right.
The highest-profile withdrawal was RadioShack's Janez Brajkovic after crashing about a mile later.
The 27-year-old Slovenian was evacuated to a hospital in an ambulance, where doctors judged that he had suffered a mild concussion, the team said. A scan showed he was otherwise all right.
Teammate Levi Leipheimer of the United States was also involved in a crash but returned to the race. Nicki Sorensen, bumped into the motorcycle of a race photographer, and skidded along a roadside before returning.
A big crash earlier tangled up France's Sylvain Chavanel and Britain's Bradley Wiggins. Another entangled Belgian sprint specialist Tom Boonen and his teammate Geert Steegmans.
Christophe Kern, the French time-trial champion, dropped out of the race after a crash.