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Fabien Cancellara, in the yellow jersey, leads the peloton out of Monaco at the start of Day 2 in the Tour de France on Sunday. ((Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images))

Britain's Mark Cavendish won Sunday's second stage of the Tour de France under a searing sun, as Lance Armstrong finished safely in the trailing pack behind a sprint.

Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland retained the race leader's yellow jersey after the 187-kilometre trek from Monaco to Brignoles, France, and joked about the hot conditions.

"The heat was like you were baking bread … it was terrible," Cancellara said on French TV. He recounted how with about an hour left of riding, his team manager said the temperature hit 40 C. "I haven't seen heat like that in years."

Cavendish clenched his fists and smiled as he crossed the line a split second in front of U.S. rider Tyler Farrar in second and Romain Feillu of France in third. It was the Briton's fifth Tour stage win.

With a solid escort from his Columbia team, Cavendish almost made it look easy.

"I'm glad I could win to just pay them back," he said after finishing in four hours 30 minutes two seconds. "It's emotional for me."

Cavendish took the green jersey awarded to the Tour's best sprinter. This is his third Tour, but he has never finished, and he said his goal was to win a stage and complete the three-week race.

The 24-year-old native of Isle of Man won three stages in the Giro d'Italia in May, and is proving to be among the world's leading sprint specialists.

Nervous peloton

Armstrong, pre-race favourite Alberto Contador and other possible title contenders were expected to ride cautiously and to avoid crashes in a nervous peloton.

Asked about how the stage went, seven-time Tour champion Armstrong said simply: "Hot" before a long pause.

"It's hard to hydrate. But you know, it's hot for everybody," he told reporters outside his team bus. Armstrong finished 80th in the stage.

Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal, the lone Canadian in the race, was 36th in the stage.

"Today was HOT, HOT, HOT," Hesjedal wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Our director Matt White said that he saw 40 degrees C out there. It was a fast day and racing was on from [the start]. An eight-kilometre climb out of Monaco tested everyone's legs and it stayed fast till the finish. I felt really good out there and was not affected by the heat."

Hesjedal's job was to help protect fellow Garmin-Slipstream riders like Farrar, Brad Wiggins and Christian Vande Velde.

"My main tasks for the day was to be on the lookout for bigger breakaway groups (usually eight or more can be dangerous) and be in it. If something small got away (which it did, four riders I believe) we wouldn't worry about being in it and save energy to keep Brad and Christian as protected as possible. Then we would be looking to the final sprint with Tyler.

"The team rode perfect always near the front and giving Tyler a perfect shot for the final at the end. He came up just short to the world's No. 1 sprinter with an awesome second place so we can't be too disappointed with that."

Hesjedal, who finished second among his teammates, stands 44th overall.

Norway's Thor Hushvold finished fourth Sunday to lead the Cervelo Test Team, which is principally owned by the Canadian Cervelo bike manufacturer.

The stage featured four minor climbs along sun-baked hills of Provence, next to the Mediterranean. The layout favoured sprinters and breakaway specialists.

Leader up by 18 seconds

Cancellara won Saturday's opening time trial to take the yellow jersey and he leads Contador, who is second, by 18 seconds. Bradley Wiggins is third, 19 seconds back, and Armstrong is 10th overall, 40 seconds back.

The 37-year-old Texan, on his comeback Tour four years after retiring, said his strategy Sunday was "just avoid trouble and get in the rhythm of the race."

Armstrong didn't speak to reporters as he left the team bus before Sunday's stage, but wrote on his Twitter account that he expected "the bunch will be antsy and aggressive" and predicted the stage would be won by Cavendish.

Nerves indeed bared with three minor mid-race crashes, one involving Saxo Bank team rider Frank Schleck of Luxembourg — one of the Tour's biggest names, and a possible title contender.

During the ride, water bottles sailed out of the pack like corn kernels popping, as riders refreshed themselves along the route that featured medieval sites like a Cistercian abbey.

Riders will face a similar trek for Monday's third stage, a 196.5-kilometre course from the Mediterranean port city of Marseille to La Grande Motte. The forecast is for hot weather.

The Tour ends July 26 in Paris.