Edvald Boasson Hagen today claimed Team Sky's first Tour de France stage success in torrential rain in Normandy.
"It's hard to describe the emotions, I'm just so happy."
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Another punishing day in the saddle saw the riders take on the 2011 Tour's longest stage, the 226.5-kilometres from Dinan to Lisieux.
And Norwegian Boasson Hagen accelerated off the wheel of team-mate Geraint Thomas to triumph ahead of HTC-Highroad's Matt Goss and Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), who retained the race leader's yellow jersey.
"I felt really good today and I'm so pleased to win the sprint," said a delighted Boasson Hagen. "Geraint Thomas did a great lead out and it's just fantastic it's all worked out.
"I was feeling strong and I knew from yesterday that I had the legs so the chance was there - I'm so glad we were able to take it.
"It's hard to describe the emotions, I'm just so happy. To get my first stage at the Tour de France is so special," added the 24-year-old who is the youngest stage winner at cycling's biggest event since Mark Cavendish.
"It means so much to the team as a whole because this is the biggest race in the world. It's gone well for us so far and will hopefully continue to do so as we work for Bradley (Wiggins) in the general classification."
Wiggins, Thomas and Boasson Hagen remain sixth, seventh and eighth on the overall standings while Thomas continues to hold the white jersey for the leading young rider. Team Sky are second in the team classification.
Thomas was instrumental in Thursday's victory and he said: "It's been a great start to the race for the team and we knew we could do something today. Edvald followed me and did great in the sprint.
"I tried to deliver him as best I could and he finished it off perfectly.
"The whole team played their part, we were all there. For example Swifty did a great job at the bottom of the last climb and was riding in the wind a lot for me. It was just a great all-round team effort."
Swift also paid tribute to the whole squad, adding: "It was perfect, we've been knocking on the door for a while now and the team has been riding fantastic all race.
"It was the longest stage of the Tour so far but it felt like the quickest. The weather was pretty grim but it made for good racing and at the end I was just trying to position Edvald and G for that final climb. It was a really tough climb and they did their thing - it was great to see."
Sports Director Sean Yates was quick to pay tribute to both Boasson Hagen and the rest of the team when we caught up with him afterwards.
He said: "It was a fantastic finish with Edvald taking the win. We’ve always known he is a great talent - he’s had a lot of bad luck over the last 18 months but today everything came together for him and the rest of the team.
"It’s fantastic, we’ve been there or thereabouts every day, and although it’s not the icing on the cake, it is the layer right underneath that! The icing on the cake is hopefully still to come but yes, this is a great win for the team.
"We’ve had good morale all Tour, even though we hadn’t won until today. We came close in the TTT and also close to the yellow jersey. Edvald also came close to the stage win yesterday but hit out too early, and he wasn’t going to make that same mistake again.
"It all came right today, the finish worked to Edvald’s advantage because that hill in the final kilometre got rid of the purer sprinters like Cav – who on a flat finish is virtually unbeatable. The way G and the rest of the team guided Edvald was top-notch and then the stage was made for him really. That was a great performance and a great day for the team."
Story of the day
A five-man break - featuring Anthony Roux (FDJ), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD), Johnny Hoogerland and Lieuwe Westra (both Vacansoleil) - began after 5km and established a lead of more than 11 minutes at one point.
The deficit was reduced by the sprinters' teams as the intermediate sprint approached and Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) led the peloton over the line in sixth place behind the breakaway.
Out in front, Westra attacked again and was followed by Malori as those previously alongside them in the escape fell back into the pack.
The peloton hunted down the duo, but the relentless pace on undulating terrain was too much for some and Westra ended his bid with 18km left as Malori was left to plough along alone up front with a slender advantage.
As the rain fell, making the roads slick for the closing stages, Roux attacked, but he was unsuccessful in his attempt to bridge the gap to Malori.
BMC Racing and Omega Pharma-Lotto, as in previous days, led the bunch into the final stages and Malori was finally caught with 2.6km and a steep ascent through Lisieux to come.
HTC-Highroad pushed to the front, with Goss on the third wheel and Alberto Contador attempted to follow Jelle Vanendert's move.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) overtook the Belgian with 2km to go, but the peloton remained within striking distance as the duo forged forward to the brow of the hill.
Garmin-Cervelo's David Millar led the hunt for the duo, with Cadel Evans, Thomas and Boasson Hagen also to the fore.
Thomas led out Boasson Hagen, who powered to the line, holding off the charge of Goss, Hushovd and the remainder of the peloton for the biggest win of his career so far.