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Cavendish bags 22nd win as Wiggins closes on title

With a little help from Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish showed he had lost none of his sprinting flair to clinch the 18th stage of the Tour de France as Nicolas Roche notched up his best finish this year so far.

Winner of the second stage in Belgium more than two weeks ago, the world champion had been reduced to a second fiddle role by the priority of his Team Sky -- win the Tour with Wiggins -- but the yellow jersey holder paid him back nicely when he led out the final sprint for his friend and team-mate in Brive-la-Gaillarde.

Wiggins punched the air in joy at the end of the 222.5km ride when he saw Cavendish bag his 22nd Tour de France stage win, a gesture in dramatic contrast with the attitude of team-mate Chris Froome in the previous mountain stage to Peyragudes.

Froome then led Wiggins towards the finish line but appeared reluctant to do so as he was arguably stronger on the day.

Froome retained his second place overall, 2:05 behind his team leader, while Italy's Nibali remained third ahead of today's 53.5km individual time trial between Bonneval and Chartres.

"It was my gift for Mark," said Wiggins. "It was dangerous in the finale and we decided to set up a train; it was safer and it was a chance to help Mark win."

Roche and fellow break-away rider Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain were still leading when Cavendish made his move and powered to victory, putting him on par with seven-times Tour champion Lance Armstrong and French sprinter Andre Darrigade, also winners of 22 stages.

Australia's Matt Goss came in second while Slovak Peter Sagan was third and consolidated his points classification green jersey. A disappointed Roche had to settle for fifth, but he is just outside the top 10 in 11th spot.

The stage was marred by a crash caused by a dog rushing onto the road, which caused Belgium's Philippe Gilbert to hit the deck. Gilbert suffered a suspected hand fracture but finished the stage.