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Mark Cavendish celebrates winning Stage 10 of the Tour de France on Tuesday. ((Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) )

Mark Cavendish won the 10th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday, narrowly beating Thor Hushovd of the Canadian-owned Cervelo team in a sprint finish on a flat stage that had cyclists riding without earpieces.

The British sprinter earned his third stage win of the Tour by breaking ahead in the final 200 metres and holding off a late charge from Hushovd, whose team is principally owned by Canadian bike maker Cervelo. Tyler Farrar of the United States finished third.

"It was a really hard finish, slightly uphill with a lot of corners," said Cavendish, who rides for Team Columbia-High Road. "I was scared that I attacked too early but (teammate Mark) Renshaw helped me a lot."

Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy kept the race leader's yellow jersey on the 194.5-kilometre trek between Limoges and Issoudun that favoured sprinters. Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong finished safely in the main pack and remains in third place, with Astana teammate Alberto Contador in second.

Contador crossed the line in 40th place, and Armstrong was 46th. Overall, Nocentini stayed six seconds ahead of Contador and eight clear of Armstrong.

Nocentini joined Armstrong and other Tour riders in criticizing the decision not to race with earpieces.

"I think that for us (riders) and for the whole team it is not a good thing," Nocentini said. "We spoke about the earpieces before the start. The fact is for us it's dangerous not to have them. There are dangers on the road."

Four riders were caught late in the race following a long breakaway.

'Very, very fast'

Thierry Hupond, Benoit Vaugrenard, Mikhail Ignatiev and Samuel Dumoulin were caught with about 1.4 kilometres to go. Cavendish then turned into the home straight and was pressured by Hushovd, but held on for his seventh career Tour stage win.

"Cavendish is very, very fast, but it's true that he also has a very quick team," Hushovd said. "I lost four or five metres to him in the last turn."

Cavendish, who won four stages but did not finish the Tour last year, won the stage in four hours 46 minutes 43 seconds.

"We had all nine guys there at the finish, working 100 per cent and delivering perfectly," Cavendish said.

Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Slipstream team finished 113th, 15 seconds off the pace and is 70th overall.

Hushovd, who kept the sprinter's green jersey despite losing points to Cavendish, and Farrar were given the same time as Cavendish.

With two more flat stages to come on Wednesday and Thursday, Cavendish has Hushovd's green jersey in his sights. Hushovd has 147 points, and Cavendish has 141.

Chasing 8th title

"I hope to win more (stages) in the next two days," Cavendish said, adding that he feels fresh because his teammates have nursed him through the Pyrenees mountain stages. "Trying to (help me) conserve as much energy as possible and that was for one reason ... to get more stage wins in the second week."

Armstrong is coming out of 3½ years of retirement and chasing an eighth Tour title. Contador is aiming for a second title after winning in 2007. The Spanish mountain specialist was unable to defend his title last year because Astana was barred from the race because of doping scandals.

The Tour hoped to inject drama into this race by eliminating earpieces in the 10th and 13th stages. Many riders, including Armstrong and Contador, saw the measure as dangerous.

"I can't hear anything, I don't know anything. ... I feel naked," Armstrong joked as he got off his Astana team bus and mounted his bike to go to the start line. "I think it's a lot to do about nothing."

Astana team director Johan Bruyneel had campaigned for the ban to be overturned. But it was upheld and is also scheduled for Friday, a tricky stage featuring one big climb and possibly many attacks. Teams are still pressuring organizers to overturn the ban.

"My impression is that we'll have the radio on Friday," Armstrong said.

Earpieces allow riders to be linked to their directors in the team cars. Popularized by Armstrong when he won his first Tour in 1999, some riders and former champions have recently criticized them for making the sport too clinical.