Mark Cavendish drew level with Lance Armstrong and André Darrigade as the fourth all-time Tour de France stage winner as he sprinted to victory in stage 18 from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde.

Cavendish, who has played second fiddle throughout the tour for Team Sky with the focus firmly on Bradley Wiggins' assault on the yellow jersey, which tightened further ahead of Saturday's time trial, strolled to victory as he bypassed Luis-León Sánchez and Nicolas Roche in the closing stages.

It was Cavendish's second stage win of the tour, but victory in Paris on Sunday could propel him into outright fourth in the all-time stage rankings, behind French pair Andre Luducq and Bernard Hinault, and Belgian Eddy Merckx.

Mark Cavendish
Cavendish claimed his 22nd career stage win.

Having sacrificed his own attempts to retain the sprint jersey from last year's tour to assist Wiggins in the fight for the general classification lead, Cavendish was thrilled to have the opportunity to notch another stage win.

"We spoke on the bus before the start and Shane Sutton said it was going to be an easy day for us," Cavendish said.

"I stuck my hand up straight away and said 'please, just give me a chance'. Wiggo committed straight away, Chris Froome committed straight away and they did a superb job for me today.

"Edvald Boasson Hagen just led me into the last corner and we had a gap. I just knew I was going to go for it. I have done nothing all Tour so I knew I had the energy in the bank. I went with five or six hundred metres to go and I knew no-one was getting past.

"It has been hard," he added. "Mentally it wasn't hard because we have had the yellow jersey and second in the General Classification. The guys have been incredible and I am proud to be a part of that.

"But I am a sprinter and it is kind of like putting Wayne Rooney in defence - I was part of the winning team but kind of lost in what I was doing."

"The guys could have cruised into Paris but they committed to my cause. They are a great group of guys and it has been an emotional three weeks."