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PARIS, France (AFP) – Britain's Mark Cavendish won a drama-filled 13th stage of the Tour de France on Friday, as former two-time winner Alberto Contador narrowed his deficit to yellow jersey holder Chris Froome.
Omega-Pharma sprinter Cavendish, taking his second win of the 100th edition of the race and 25th of his career, dominated a two-up sprint with Slovakian Peter Sagan.
The British champion had been near the front of the peloton when Contador's Saxo team turned the screw on Team Sky and caused a split in the peloton 31 km from the finish.
Their turn of pace soon left Froome behind and the Sky team of the Kenyan-born Briton crumbled for the second time in the race as they fought in vain to close the gap.
One by one Sky dropped off the pace, leaving Froome isolated and requiring the help of other teams to help in the chase.
Their failure to plug the gap in tough conditions left a 14-strong leading group, being driven mainly by Contador's Saxo team, to forge ahead and finish 1:08 ahead.
As a result, Contador moved up one place to third overall and, after sitting with a 3:54 overnight deficit, is now only 2:45 behind Froome, with Dutchman Bauke Mollema in second at 2:28.
Earlier in the race Mollema's Belkin team were instrumental in virtually ending the podium hopes of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde.
The Movistar team leader started the stage in second place overall at 3:25 but when he suffered a puncture, Belkin increased the pace at the front of the peloton and the former Tour of Spain winner was dropped.
Valverde's teammates dropped back in a bid to pace him back to the peloton but after a long spell of chasing they gave up the ghost. He stopped chasing and eventually trailed home nearly 10 minutes off the pace.