|Cavendish's win was the 16th stage victory of his Tour de France career [Reuters]
Mark Cavendish became one of the top 10 stage winners in the Tour de France when he raced to victory in an incident-packed fifth stage in Cap Frehel on Wednesday.
Spurred by his defeat in the first mass sprint of this edition in Redon in the third stage, the British rider silenced his critics by surging in the last stretch of the 164.5-km ride to pip Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert and Spain's Jose Jaquin Rojas on the line.
Norway's Thor Hushovd, who finished 10th, retained his slim one-second lead over Australian Cadel Evans in the overall standings.
"I'm very happy. There were not so many flat finishes in this Tour and I had to use all my resilience to win this," said Cavendish.
Cavendish's 16th stage victory on the Tour, which put him on par with cycling greats such as five-times Tour winner Jacques Anquetil, was all the more spectacular as the finale was not to his liking.
"I didn't expect it to be so hard at the finish. The guys there were not really bunch sprinters, but strong guys like Philippe, Thor or Geraint Thomas," said Cavendish.
"I gathered I would go to take points for the green jersey. I was kind of surprised to win. Most times I win with a margin, this time I had to give it everything I had. It will take a few days to recover."
After Tyler Farrar's win two days earlier, when Cavendish finished fifth, the HTC team leader had warned his critics not to write him off just because he had won fewer races than usual this season.
"I put every other race on the back-foot to be ready for the Tour de France," he said.
As usual with mass sprints on the Tour, there were plenty of crashes.
Green jersey holder Rojas complained that he had momentarily been blocked Italy's Alessandro Petacchi in the closing stages but the Spaniard ended up being disqualified from the day's intermediate sprint. He surrendered the jersey to Gilbert.
Before Cavendish dashed to his first stage win in this edition, almost all the big names in the peloton hit the tarmac in a windswept ride along the Breton seaside, starting with three-times champion Alberto Contador.
The Spaniard, who was brilliant a day earlier when he thought he had won the fourth stage but finished second behind Evans, fell with 88 km to go when his chain snapped. He managed to get back on his bike and finish in the main pack.
"It was difficult today, very tense. A lot of people crashed. I was halted by a fall in a village and five kilometres later, my chain snapped," said Contador.
"What matters is that I managed to get up and continue. It will be a hard night."
The unluckiest team were RadioShack, who lost their leader Janez Brajkovic. The Slovenian crashed four kilometres before Contador and was forced out of the race.
His team-mates Chris Horner and Yaroslav Popovych also ended up on the road but made it to the finish.
"It's a hard day. But there's nothing you can do. It's the Tour de France, it's a lottery. Almost everybody crashed," said RadioShack team director Alain Gallopin.
Brajkovic was diagnosed with concussion but a brain scan carried out in a Guingamp hospital revealed nothing serious. The Slovenian was also treated for a shoulder injury.
Among the other team leaders involved in pile-ups were Dutchman Robert Gesink, who bruised his knee and elbow, and Briton Bradley Wiggins, who lost a minute after a massive crash but was brought back into the pack by his Team Sky team mates.
"Horrible, horrible, horrible," the Olympic pursuit champion said.
Quick Step were almost as hard hit as RadioShack with three riders down, especially former world champion Tom Boonen of Belgium, who crossed the line 13 minutes after the main pack with an injured shoulder.