|With Stage 18 in the bag, Cavendish ties Lance Armstrong with 22 total Tour stage wins. (AP)|
BRIVE-LA-GAILLARDE, France -- Mark Cavendish of Britain won Friday's 18th stage of the Tour de France in a sprint as Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey - moving ever closer to winning the three-week race.
The ride along four small hills took the pack on a trek of 222.5 kilometers (138 miles) from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde, seen as a transitional stage before Saturday's time trial.
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Wiggins, Cavendish and the Sky team made it look easy with an almost textbook sprint setup. With about 1.3 kilometers left, Wiggins -- rare for a yellow jersey -- took the head of the pack and chased down six breakaway riders, then peeled away with about a kilometer to go.
The Sky train motored ahead and Cavendish -- showing he's perhaps the world's most explosive rider -- whirred around the remaining escapees in the last several hundred meters, winning by a couple of bike lengths.
Luis Leon Sanchez, seeing Cavendish speed by, appeared to sigh with resignation at the Briton's velocity. By the end, Cavendish beat Matt Goss of Australia in second and Peter Sagan of Slovakia in third.
Wiggins and Cavendish exchanged a long hug after the finish.
Cavendish, who has been largely overshadowed on Sky by Wiggins, collected his second stage win this Tour and the 22nd career Tour stage victory -- the same number as seven-time champion Lance Armstrong had.