Mark Cavendish finished just five seconds down on Fabian Cancellara in Saturday?s short prologue at the Tour of California, giving himself an excellent chance of snatching the race lead in Sunday?s sprint finish.

Cavendish had highlighted stage one as a potential winning opportunity prior to travelling to California, and with ten seconds in time bonuses going to the winner he could take enough time to take the race lead.

Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen have just one seconds? advantage over the Columbia rider, who has already proved he is the fastest man in the bunch this year, although Sunday?s stage might not be plain sailing.

Forecasters predicted 70kph winds would hit the Bay Area through Saturday night and in to Sunday morning, and with that weather front bringing in rain, the stage is going to be tough to control.

Win or not on Sunday, Columbia have put themselves in a very strong position with four riders, including Cavendish, in the top 11. Both Michael Rogers and George Hincapie look like being real contenders in the race should they get to Friday?s Solvang time trial still in contact with the leaders.

Cavendish put much of Saturday’s success down to the Highroad branded time trial bikes they were riding. “It?s unbelievable, it?s 100 per cent power transmission. I went training in my 53, I normally push 53×11, and I came back from the training lap and said I need a 55.”

Team boss Bob Stapleton wouldn?t say who was making the bikes, but it?s impossible to miss the striking resemblance to last year?s Giant TT frames. “This is a bike that was developed with outside engineering,” Stapleton said. “I can?t tell you who manufactures it, I?m legally restricted from telling you that, but that is a different bike from what we rode last year.”

The team has put considerable effort in to the bike, enlisting the help of experts from Formula One and other industries to maximise the aerodynamics and the way the carbon is manipulated.

Stapleton also denied that the alloy section below the tri bars was an illegal faring. “It?s totally UCI compliant, it?s also available to be a fluid reservoir and it meets all UCI rules, unlike some other TT bikes that are out on the course right now. So if those rules are enforced, our bikes will pass and maybe some others wont.

“Every team noticed at the worlds that the UCI regulations would be strictly enforced, and everyone got a letter in January, and you can see some tension about that even in this race.”

The bottom of the tri bars’ alloy section bolts to the front of the fork, which, according to Adam Hanson gives it significantly greater rigidity and therefore improved handling.

“One of the other things I like about it is that it?s a really nice bike to ride,” Stapleton continued. “It?s comfortable, it?s stable, and the guys can stay in their position and produce maximum power for a long time. It?s also stable in the wind, it?s just a really a nice riding bike.”

Columbia Highroad's time trial bikeGeorge Hincapie’s bike shows more than a passing resemblance to the 2008 Giant

Columbia Highroad's time trial bikeThat might look like a faring in front of the head tube, but apparently this bike is 100 per cent legal.

Columbia Highroad's time trial bikeEven though this is still prototype equipment, it looks significantly more aero than some of the stem / tribar set ups on other team’s bikes.


2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: LINKS

STAGE REPORTS

Prologue: Cancellara Express derails the Armstrong show

NEWS & FEATURES

Tour of California blog

Armstrong and Astana train for Tour of California

Mark Cavendish: Rider Profile

Lance Armstrong: Rider Profile

PHOTOS

Prologue photo gallery

Cycling Weekly photo gallery

2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA PREVIEW

2009 Tour of California race preview

Start list: all the riders

Team list: all the squads

2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA STAGES

Saturday, February 14 Prologue details

Sunday, February 15 Stage one details

Monday, February 16 Stage two details

Tuesday, February 17 Stage three details

Wednesday, February 18 Stage four details

Thursday February 19 Stage five details

Friday, February 20 Stage six details

Saturday, February 21 Stage seven details

Sunday, February 22 Stage eight details

EXTERNAL LINKS

Tour of California official website