BORDEAUX, France – Even without his most important teammate, Mark Cavendish showed again that few can touch him when it comes to sprinting.

The British rider won the 18th stage of the Tour de France as Alberto Contador of Spain drew closer to victory Friday. The defending champion leads Andy Schleck of Luxembourg by eight seconds entering today’s decisive time trial, a day before the three-week race ends in Paris.

Cavendish won a stage for the fourth time in this Tour and the 14th time in just three years of riding in cycling’s top event.

He surged to the front in the final couple hundred yards. He gave himself such a lead that he was able to look behind him a couple times and then cross the line with his fist in the air.

Some Hollywood star power was there to greet him. Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, on hand to promote their latest film, joined Contador on the podium to receive his yellow jersey. Cruise raised the Spaniard’s hand and patted him on the back.

Cavendish won without his usual leadout man and roommate. Mark Renshaw was tossed from the race after the 11th stage for head-butting an opponent, and Cavendish dedicated his latest victory to Renshaw. He said Renshaw made life easy, bringing him to the front.

“I’ve missed Mark,” Cavendish said. “I missed him in the Pyrenees, I missed somebody suffering more than me. I missed somebody to laugh about, about how hard it is.”

Second place went to Julian Dean of New Zealand and third to Alessandro Petacchi of Italy. Petacchi took the green jersey given to the leading sprinter from Thor Hushovd of Norway.

Hushovd said his fight to retain the sprint title he won last year was over.

“It’s a big disappointment but I realized step by step during the sprints that I’m suffering,” said Hushovd, speaking after ducking into his team bus to take off the green jersey he had been wearing. “I don’t have the same level as Cavendish and Petacchi, and today was just another sprint that didn’t work out.”

Although Contador holds what appears to be a slender lead, he’s expected to easily outpace Schleck in today’s 32-mile time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac. Last year, he won the time trial held late in the Tour and beat Schleck by 1 minute, 45 seconds.

Contador, as the leader, also will ride last, allowing him to know how his rivals have done.

Today is the last stage in which the positions at the top can change. Sunday’s final stage into Paris is traditionally a sprinters’ stage and a daylong victory procession for the overall winner.