CHATEAUROUX, France Mark Cavendish of Britain won a sprint to take the longest stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday, and Stefan Schumacher of Germany retained the overall lead.
Cavendish beat Oscar Freire of Spain and veteran sprinter Erik Zabel of Germany on the line in the fifth stage, a flat, 144-mile run from Cholet to Chateauroux.
"It's the biggest thing that's happened to me," the 23-year-old Cavendish said. "To win a stage of the Tour is a massive thing. I came here with the intention of winning one. It just means so, so much to me."
Three Frenchmen Lilian Jegou, Nicolas Vogondy and Florent Brard hit the front after seven miles and at one point had a lead of more than 8 minutes. However, the field never seemed concerned, and the breakaway was caught just before the finish.
Cavendish had been disappointed that Monday's third stage was won by a breakaway, giving no opportunity for the sprinters to fight for a victory.
The rider from the Isle of Man was selected by British Cycling on Tuesday to ride the Madison event on the track at the Beijing Olympics along with Bradley Wiggins. The pair won the world championships in the event in March. Cavendish is not slated to compete in the road races.
Schumacher held on to his 12-second overall lead from Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg and David Millar of Britain.
"It was great to enjoy this stage in the yellow jersey," Schumacher said.
The riders expected to contend for the overall victory alls finished safely in the pack, although Alejandro Valverde of Spain hit debris in the road about 50 miles into the stage and went over his handlebars. He injured his right arm, right knee and calf, but got back on his bike and continued riding.
The injuries are not expected to threaten Valverde's continued participation, the Caisse d'Epargne team said.
Frenchman Aurelien Passeron hit a female spectator about three miles from the end of the race. Passeron got back on his bike and continued, but finished almost 5 minutes behind the field.
Race organizers said the spectator, Marie-Antoinette Bidault, injured her right wrist but did not break it.
Colombian rider Juan Mauricio Soler, who has ridden with injured wrists since crashing in Saturday's first stage, pulled out of the race early into the stage. He was the King of the Mountains champion as the Tour's best climber last year.
His Barloworld team said a scan confirmed a fracture in his right hand. Soler had felt so much pain holding the handlebars that he was in danger of crashing."In agreement with Mauricio, we decided to wait two days after the crash to see if things improved, but we've had to accept that it is impossible for Soler to carry on in the Tour de France," team manager Claudio Corti said.
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.