Cavendish wins 18th stage of Tour de France

Mark Cavendish of Britain has won the 18th stage of the Tour de France in a bunch sprint, and Alberto Contador has retained the overall lead after a flat 198-kilometre ride from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux.

Mark Cavendish of Britain again showed he's one of cycling's best sprinters, winning the 18th stage of the Tour de France in a final dash Friday as Alberto Contador retained the yellow jersey in Bordeaux.

The 25-year-old Cavendish collected his fourth Tour stage win this year and 14th of his career in the flat 198-kilometre ride from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux that was likely to favour sprinters.

Cavendish made it look easy: Within the last several hundred metres, he swerved left to get around two riders including Norwegian sprint star Thor Hushovd, of the Canadian-owned Cervelo Test Team.

At the finish, Cavendish looked back over his shoulder, almost seeming to taunt his rivals. Julian Dean of New Zealand was second, and Italy's Alessandro Petacchi was third.

"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 four hours 37 minutes nine seconds, the same time awarded to the main pack.

"I just wanted to win."

Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal still sits eighth overall, while Toronto's Michael Barry remains 99th.

Hushovd finished 14th and is 111th. Spaniard Carlos Sestre's is Cervelo's top rider at 21st overall.

The race ends in Paris on Sunday.

With his third place, Petacchi swiped the green jersey awarded to the best sprinter from Hushovd, who finished 14th in the stage and gave up any hope of recovering it by the final stage Sunday on Paris' Champs-Elysees.

"It's a big disappointment, but I realized step by step during the sprints that I'm suffering," Hushovd said. "I don't have the same level as Cavendish and Petacchi, and today was just another sprint that didn't work out."

Cavendish's HTC Columbia team moved to the front of the pack in the last 20 kilometres, pressing the pace to reel in four breakaway riders who got out at the 11 kilometre mark and led nearly the whole day.

With just three kilometres to go, the fast-moving peloton swallowed up the last of those escapees, setting up the final bunch sprint.

Defending champion Contador of Spain held his eight-second lead over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg -- a gap that is expected to widen in the crucial 52-kilometre time-trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac.

On Friday, Contador knew he just needed to stay out of trouble.

"It was a rather calm stage today," said Contador. "I needed to be vigilant -- the wind was in front -- and especially for the last few kilometres, those are the most important."

Schleck, who normally isn't as strong as the Spanish defending champion in time-trials, says he's still got a card to play.

"I feel good. I have nothing to lose," Schleck said. "He's better but I'm not bad too. We're going to see a battle tomorrow."