Sprint specialist Mark Cavendish won the 11th stage of the Tour de France with help from an illegal head-butt from teammate Mark Renshaw, who was thrown out of the race Thursday for his aggressive tactics.
Andy Schleck of Luxembourg retained the overall race lead, cruising into the finish in the main pack after riding part of the stage while discussing a vacation with his main rival for the title, defending champion Alberto Contador.
The drama of the stage came on the final sprint, when Renshaw — the lead-out man for Cavendish on the HTC Columbia team — head-butted Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions three times in an apparent bid to push him out of the way. Dean is the leadout man for American sprinter Tyler Farrar, who then appeared to be cut off by Renshaw in the closing meters.
"This is cycling, it's not wrestling," said course director Jean-Francois Pescheux, adding that the violation was "flagrant" and removing Renshaw from the race was necessary.
"There are rules to respect," Pescheux said.
Cavendish rushed to the defense of Renshaw, claiming Dean attempted to elbow him.
"Mark Renshaw fought to prevent the lane from being closed on him," Cavendish said through a translator on French TV. "He didn't want to be blocked."
Cavendish, from the Isle of Man, won his third stage win in this year's Tour on the 114.6-mile trek from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence. Alessandro Petacchi of Italy was second and Farrar third, all finishing in 4 hours, 42 minutes, 29 seconds.
Cavendish said he was pleased with his 13th career stage win at the Tour, but disappointed that his teammate had been sent home.
The stage was mainly flat with only one mid-grade climb, and thus favored sprinters. The general classification didn't change, with all the top contenders finishing in the main pack.
Schleck earned the yellow jersey for a third straight day, while Contador remained 41 seconds back. Fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez is third, 2:45 off the lead.
Schleck had a relatively easy day, and even did a bit of chatting in the peloton.
"It was quiet and we can act like normal people," Schleck said through a translator, adding that Contador was a friend and they had gone on vacation together. "So we spoke about — we remembered — our holidays."
The Luxembourg rider finished 65th, and Contador was 40th, with the same time as Cavendish.
Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong, who has already ruled himself out of contention for the title, lost time for the second straight day. He finished in 114th place, 29 seconds behind the main pack, and is 17:51 off the lead in 32nd overall.
The stage Friday is a bit more bumpy, with five mid-grade climbs during the 130.8-mile stage from Bourg-de-Peage to Mende in rural southeastern France.