TOURNAI, Belgium – Mark Cavendish led a tight sprint to the finish Monday to win the second stage of the Tour de France, while Fabian Cancellara retained the overall leader's yellow jersey after the mostly flat ride across Belgium.
The top overall standings didn't change as defending champion Cadel Evans and fellow title contender Bradley Wiggins trailed close behind in the pack in the 129-mile ride from Vise to Tournai.
Cavendish collected his 21st Tour stage victory and proved he remains the rider to beat in Tour sprints. He also won three stages in the Giro d'Italia and two in the Tour of Oman this year.
The 27-year-old has been left largely to fend for himself this year because his Sky team is focusing on helping his countryman Wiggins become Britain's first Tour champion.
"It's quite nice. I came into this sprint day with really the least pressure I've ever had in a Tour stage," Cavendish said. "Normally in the past, I've had a full dedicated team. Normally, I win by some bike lengths. Today I had to lunge at the line, so you see that it wasn't too easy."
Cavendish, notorious for his short fuse, rebuffed a reporter who suggested Sky appeared to have two goals – success for him in the quest for the green jersey given to the best sprinter and Wiggins' hopes for the yellow.
"There are not two objectives. There's one objective," Cavendish said gruffly.
He also sought to dispel speculation he is looking ahead to the London Olympics, where he will be one of the road race favorites.
"(The Tour) is the most beautiful race of the year for me," he said. "I can't say the Olympics are more important."
Cancellara kept the lead for a third consecutive day after winning the opening-day prologue Saturday. Wiggins remained second, seven seconds behind, and Evans was in eighth, 17 seconds behind.
The riders' only climbing challenge was a winding, low-grade ascent up the citadel of Namur, a medieval town. The flat layout helped riders keep pace with each other in a tight pack against the wind, setting the stage for a sprint finish.
Three breakaway riders, including Anthony Roux, whose injured left wrist hung limply by his handlebars, led most of the day. The pack swallowed Roux, the last to hold out, with about nine miles left.