By the finish, Cavendish looked back over his shoulder, almost seeming to taunt his rivals, winning by several bike lengths. 

"I just wanted to conserve my energy,'' Cavendish said, when asked why he appeared to let up at the end. He said he wanted to save himself a bit for Saturday's tough time trial.

"I doesn't matter whether you win by a lot or half a bike length," he said, after clocking 4 hours, 37 minutes, 9 seconds, the same time awarded to the main pack.

Green jersey

Julian Dean of New Zealand was second, and Italy's Alessandro Petacchi was third, grabbing the sprinter's green jersey.

Hushovd, who had held the green jersey, finished 14th and gave up any hope of recovering the prize by the final stage.

"It's a big disappointment, but I realised step by step during the sprints that I'm suffering," he said.

"I don't have the same level as Cavendish and Petacchi, and today was just another sprint that didn't work out."

Spaniard Alberto Contador retained the overall lead over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and is widely expected to consolidate his grip on the yellow jersey in the time trial.

The race ends in Paris on Sunday.