Tour de France: Mark Cavendish sprints to victory on stage seven
Mark Cavendish earned a first Tour de France success in almost two years as he sprinted to victory on stage seven.
The 30-year-old's 26th win takes him two behind Bernard Hinault (28), while Eddy Merckx's record stands at 34.
Cavendish powered past Andre Greipel about 50m from the line on an uphill finish in Fougeres to avenge two losses to the German earlier in the Tour.
Briton Chris Froome retained the lead, having inherited it when Tony Martin retired after crashing on Thursday.
Froome did not start stage seven in the race leader's yellow jersey though, because Martin crossed the finish line on stage six as the race leader and then pulled out.
After receiving the yellow jersey, Froome said: "It's a huge privilege to be back in yellow but certainly under these circumstances it wasn't ideal."
With Martin, who had flown overnight for surgery, watching from his hospital bed in Hamburg, Cavendish said before the stage started that he wanted a win to dedicate to his Etixx - Quick-Step team-mate.
And afterwards the Manxman, whose last Tour win was on stage 13 in 2013, reiterated: "After such a loss with Tony, it was so nice to get a win. It's for Tony.
"My team was motivated. It was incredible. I just wanted it so bad. I'm really happy."
When asked what the difference between winning and losing had been, he said: "The team's been phenomenal, it's just me that's let them down in the sprints.
"I just waited a little longer. I was more patient, so I could use my speed at the end."
Cavendish celebrated with eight-months pregnant wife Peta and three-year-old daughter Delilah.
"I've waited a week for this win personally," Cavendish said. "She (Delilah) was angry I didn't get the flowers in the last days. Today she's happy."
The race followed a formulaic pattern with five riders breaking clear early on. Among them was Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot, who on Thursday became the first black African rider to wear the polka dot jersey as leader of the King of the Mountains classification.
He was chasing the one point on offer for reaching the summit of the day's only categorised climb after 13km and duly obliged to retain the jersey.
From then it was all about setting up the sprint finish.
|Analysis from BBC Sport's Matt Slater|
|Two years without a Grand Tour victory, two missed opportunities in the first week of this year's Tour, two wins for his old rival Andre Greipel - Mark Cavendish's troubles have been coming in pairs. And that was before we arrived in Fougeres and found out the finish line was at the end of a 250m incline. It did not look like natural "Cav country" even in his very best form and he would also be missing the man who supplies much of the oomph to the Etixx - Quick-Step train, the stricken Tony Martin.|
|But that is the thing about champions: they enjoy proving their doubters wrong. The mood at the team bus was almost euphoric, a hat-trick of wins in this most mixed of Tours, and Cavendish was in euphoric form in his press conference. He has two, perhaps three, more chances at this year's race and a load has been lifted: watch him fly.|
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The quintet out front had dwindled to a pair by the time they were caught with about 10km remaining.
Greipel's Lotto-Soudal team-mates looked to have led their man out to perfection on the run-in to the line, which climbed 4% in the closing few hundred metres.
Cavendish looked like he had no path through as he came out of the slipstream of Katusha's Alexander Kristoff inside the final 100m but he found a gap to take the win and 50 points in the race for the green jersey.
Peter Sagan finished third to claim four bonus seconds and move up to second overall, 11 seconds behind Froome, in the only change at the top of the general classification.
|Geraint Thomas's stage-by-stage guide|
|Stage eight: Rennes - Mur de Bretagne, 181.5 km (112.7 miles)|
|"We rode the Mur de Bretagne at the 2011 Tour when I was in the white jersey as best young rider. It was a real sting in the tale after a heavy day in the rain. It will certainly be a stressful finish and we could see a breakaway or a sprint. Even somebody like Alberto Contador might go for the win if they are feeling confident, because this year there is a time bonus of 10 seconds for stage wins."|
|Team Sky's Geraint Thomas's analysis of all 21 stages.|
Saturday's stage eight features a 2km climb to the summit finish on Mur de Bretagne. It is a finish that could suit Sagan, who, with 10 bonus seconds on offer to the winner, could take the race lead.
However, he said: "I have to drop him (Froome) in the climb and I don't think I can do that."
Greipel leads the green jersey classification on 199 points, with Sagan second on 187 and Cavendish third on 151.
Stage seven result:
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) Etixx - Quick-Step 4hrs, 27mins, 25secs
2. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal Same time
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo
4. John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant Alpecin
5. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
6. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
7. Tyler Farrar (US) MTN-Qhubecka
8. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (SA) MTN-Qhubecka
9. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida
10. Sam Bennett (Ire) Bora-Argon 18
1. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky 26hrs 40mins 51secs
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo +11secs
3. Tejay van Garderen (US) BMC Racing +13secs
4. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal +26secs
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing +28secs
6. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx - Quick-Step +34secs
7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo +36secs
8. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step +52secs
9. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky +1min 03secs
10. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant Alpecin +1min 07secs
12. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana +1min 38secs
16. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar +1min 56secs