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Britain's Mark Cavendish celebrates his third-stage victory at the Tour de France Monday. ((Bas Czerwinski)/Associated Press))

Britain's Mark Cavendish won Monday's third stage of the Tour de France, while a wily Lance Armstrong jumped to third place overall in La Grande-Motte.

Fabian Cancellara retained the yellow jersey after keeping up with a breakaway group that bolted out of the pack with 30 kilometres left.

Cavendish, with his sixth Tour stage win and second in a row, clocked five hours one minute 24 seconds for the hot and breezy 196.5-kilometre course from Marseille to La Grande-Motte.

Armstrong, Cancellara and 22 other riders in the breakaway group were given the same time. Swiss rider Cancellara's overall lead is now 33 seconds ahead of Germany's Tony Martin.

Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, the lone Canadian in the race, was 96th in the stage and fell to 49th overall.

Armstrong remains 40 seconds behind, but jumped from 10th to third place overall after the other riders who entered the stage ahead of him got trapped behind in the main pack.

'It was brilliant'

Cavendish mimed talking on a mobile phone — in recognition of one of the sponsors on his Columbia team — after he won a sprint finish ahead of Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd and Cyril Lemoine of France.

"It was brilliant, we were the only sprint team that wanted to ride today," the 24-year-old Briton said.

Hushovd rides for the Cervelo Test Team, which is principally owned by the Canadian Cervelo bike manufacturer.

"Today was the perfect opportunity for us," Hushovd said. "I was close to beating him today but I'll have to take a bigger chance if I want to beat Cavendish during this Tour. I started this Tour in fine fashion, but Mark is just faster right now; I hope to beat him before it is over."

The main pack, including pre-race favourites like Armstrong's Astana teammate Alberto Contador and two-time runner-up Cadel Evans, finished 41 seconds behind.

The breakaway group used the gusty conditions to their advantage in a tactic known as a "bordure," with the wind creating splits and making it harder for the main pack to keep up. Contador and other favourites were caught off-guard.

Team time-trial

"We knew the wind was going to be a factor," Armstrong said. "When you see a team at the front like that, you have to pay attention."

Armstrong said it was "not my objective" to gain ground on Contador, insisting he was "just trying to stay up front and out of trouble.… I turned around and was surprised there was a split."

Contador, a 26-year-old Spaniard, dropped from second to fourth overall, 59 seconds back from Cancellara. Fellow Astana rider Levi Leipheimer slipped from sixth to 10th, and is 1:11 back.

Tuesday's stage is a team time-trial. If Astana wins, Armstrong could take the yellow jersey.

The stage is 39 kilometres and starts and finishes in Montpellier.

The race ends July 26 in Paris.