Belgian Gert Steegmans outgunned Mark Cavendish in the final bunch sprint of the Circuit Franco-Belge on Sunday – a victory which simultaneously prevented the Briton from taking his first overall win in a pro stage race.

Since the mass dash for the line on Friday’s stage two, when Steegmans beat Cavendish – although Cavendish came from too far back to make it a straight two-man sprint ? Franco-Belge has developed into a duel between the two strongest fastmen present, battling both for each day’s wins and the overall victory.

No time trials or very hilly terrain meant that for Cavendish and his Belgian rival, Franco-Belge did not just offer stage wins, but also an unusual chance – Cavendish’s first since he turned pro – of taking the overall victory in a multi-day event.

Saturday went much better for Cavendish, as he took his 11th win of the season ahead of Steegmans by a sizeable margin and drew equal on time overall.

But on Sunday, the terrain in the final bunch sprint – uphill and cobbled ? was in Steegmans favour, and he could not get past Tom Boonen?s lead-out man.

?It was a strength sprint, not a speed sprint, uphill and with cobbles, and that favours a guy like Steegmans,? Cavendish told CW.

?On top of that, I had to come round his left on a right-hand curve close to the finish, and I couldn?t get past.?

?The team had did a brilliant job again, it was all under control, but he was stronger than me on the day.?

Overall in the four-day stage race, Cavendish finished second behind Steegmans, and ahead of Belgian Classics specialist Phillipe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux.) Cavendish also won the Best Young Rider jersey.

Franco-Belge is the final race of the season for T-Mobile. In a press release, team manager Bob Stapleton said the squad “follow the spirit of the team ethical code discussed in Salzberg in September 2006.”

These discussions included a voluntary one-week break following a second positive test, starting with the next Pro-Tour race. T-Mobile’s Lorenzo Bernucci tested positive in the Tour of Spain, so the break starts with Paris-Tours on October 14 – a race which had been Cavendish’s final end of season objective – and concludes with the Tour of Lombardy on October 20th.

Circuit Franco-Belge stage four Cuesmes ? Tournai 162.7km
1 Gert Steegmans (Belgium) Quick Step 3-36-00
2 Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) T-Mobile
3 Robbie McEwen (Australia) Predictor-Lotto
4 Aliaksandr Usov (Bylorussia) Ag2R
5 Allan Davis (Australia) Discovery Channel
British
40 Dan Lloyd (DFL)
41 Roger Hammond (T-Mobile)
95 Stephen Cummings (Discovery Channel) all st
131 Ian Stannard (T-Mobile) at 3-00.

Final overall
1 Gert Steegmans (Belgium) Quick Step 16-58-00
2 Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) T-Mobile at 4 sec
3 Phillipe Gilbert (Belgium) Francaise de Jeux at 14sec
4 Aurelien Clerc (Switzerland) Bouygues at 16sec
5 Marco Marcato (Italy) LPR at st
British
29 Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) at 26sec
49 Dan Lloyd (DFL)
62 Stephen Cummings (Discovery Channel) all st.
137 Ian Stannard (T-Mobile) at 16-01

RELATED LINKS
Stage three: Cavendish gets win number 11
Stage two: Cavendish second in Franco-Belge sprint
Stage one: Cav’s crash woe at Franco-Belge
Cavendish wants 11th win at Franco-Belge
Cavendish takes tenth win in Southampton
Cavendish wins Tour of Britain prologue
Cavendish wins Scheldeprijs

EXTERNAL LINKS
Official event website: circuitfrancobelge.lunarpark.be