Mark Cavendish winning a bunch sprint is no great surprise anymore, but today he did it at the end of what looked like one of the tougher stages of the Tour of California.
Columbia?s fastman himself admitted that he wasn?t looking at Wednesday?s stage from Merced to Clovis as a possible win, but when he got over the top of the final climb of five on the route still in contention his team put a plan in to action.
Chasing down the days escapees, Tyler Hamilton, Serge Pauwels and Jason McCartney, Columbia made amends for yesterday?s stage by taking their man right up to the line.
Cavendish duly delivered, although it was a close run thing as Tom Boonen was rapidly gaining ground on his left and nearly pipped him on the line, as Cavendish did to him at last year?s Scheldeprijs.
?To be truthful I wasn?t planning on getting anywhere near the front today, I thought it would be about survival, but like I always do, even if a stage finishes on Alp d?Huez, I make sure I know the final few kilometres just in case,? Cavendish said after the stage. ?And yeah, it was hard in the beginning, but after the break went it kind of played in to my hands a little bit.
?It was hard in the mountains, but not too hard, I always had three or four guys with me and they give me the morale just to get over the climbs. We did that and then they set it up perfectly for me. Once we got to the top of the last climb I knew I was in with a chance, but it was just a case of getting there?
For Tom Boonen the stage proved that he?s not a spent force in sprinting. Cavendish beat him twice comfortably in Qatar, but the Belgian almost snuck through on Cavendish?s left. Had the line come a metre later, there would have been a different rider on top of the podium today.
Before the stage Boonen had said that he hadn?t written his bunch sprinting days off just yet, ?I haven?t sprinted yet this season,? he said. ?I did one sprint in Qatar but it wasn?t really a sprint, we were racing for fourth and the last stage I wasn?t there for the sprint, so I?m looking forward to a real let out sprint.?
The two may meet again tomorrow as the route of stage five, although undulating, has no categorised climbs.
BIG NAMES CRASH OUT
The race took another two victims today as the crashes continued. 2008 Fleche Wallone winner Kim Kirchen fractured his Clavicle and Scapula when his cape got caught in his front wheel.
Oscar Freire came down in the same crash and fractured two ribs, threatening his participation in next months Milan San remo, a race he has won twice before (2004 and 2007). Scott Nydam also crashed out today, suffering from concussion.
CAV MOVES UP LIST OF ALL-TIME BRIT WINNERS
Cavendish’s latest win means that he has now scored a total of 31 professional wins on the road and has moved up to equal second with Malcolm Elliott in Cycling Weekly’s All-time List of British Pro Winners.
With only three years as a professional under his belt, Cavendish’s career is still in its infancy. Can he surpass Chris Boardman as the British rider with the most pro wins in our list?
Mark Cavendish wins stage four of the Tour of California 2009 in to Clovis ahead of Tom Boonen, Juan Jose Haedo and Thor Hushovd. Picture by Graham Watson
Tour of California stage four: results
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Columbia-Highroad 186.3km in 4-42-38
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
4. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo
5. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
6. Markus Zberg (Sui) BMC Racing
7. Freddy Rodriguez (USA) Rock Racing
8. Sebastian Haedo (Arg) Colavita
9. Bernard Sulzberger (Aus) Fly V Australia
10. Martin Elmiger (Sui) AG2R
General classification after stage four
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana in 18-33-52
2. Michael Rogers (Aus) Columbia-Highroad at 24 secs
3. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 28 secs
4. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 30 secs
5. Christopher Horner (USA) Astana at 34 secs
6. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana at 38 secs
7. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia-Highroad at same time
8. Jose Rubiera (Spa) Astana at same time
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at same time
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 39 secs
80. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 29-50
The riders roll out at the start of stage four
Lance Armstrong is currently fourth overall
No hard feelings: Tom Boonen congratulates Mark Cavendish on his stage win
2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: LINKS
NEWS & FEATURES
Cancellara abandons Tour of California
Armstrong’s bike stolen in California
Cavendish poised to take leaders jersey
Tour of California blog
Armstrong and Astana train for Tour of California
Mark Cavendish: Rider Profile
Lance Armstrong: Rider Profile
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
Tour of California official website