Mark Cavendish won the opening stage of the Tour of California in Sacramento.
The sprinter from the Isle of Man beat Juan Jose Haedo, the Argentinian Saxo Bank rider in the sprint and took the leader’s jersey by four seconds thanks to the time bonus.
It was his third victory of the season and the 54th of his professional career.
Cavendish was less than happy at being asked to skip the Giro d’Italia – where he has won five stages in the past two years – in order to ride in California. But knowing how important the race is to his sponsors HTC-Columbia, he delivered the goods on day one.
It completed an incredible weekend of success for British riders, with Ben Swift winning a stage and the overall at the Tour of Picardie in France, and Lizzie Armitstead taking a stage of the Tour de l’Aude.
The opening stage in California was animated by four riders who broke away – Maarten Tjallingii of Rabobank, Chad Beyer of BMC, Marc De Maar of United Healthcare and Paul Mach of Bissell. The maximum lead they enjoyed was around five minutes.
They were captured with 16 kilometres to go, as the big bunch sped into town on the wide straight roads. Then it was a battle for control at the front of the bunch before they arrived on the 3.5-kilometre finishing circuit, which they tackled three times.
The bunch was strung out on the finishing circuit in Sacramento, which was just like a criterium course with 90-degree bends. HTC-Columbia had everything under control, with the whole team at the front.
At the start of the final lap, Saxo Bank, Cervélo and Quick Step barged HTC-Columbia off the front but it was short-lived and Cavendish’s team-mates quickly regained the upper hand.
Inside the final kilometre and Cavendish still had three team-mates in front of him. Behind them there were a couple of crashes – Tom Boonen was one of the fallers but he was quickly to his feet and rolled in, his jersey and shorts torn to ribbons and some nasty road rash already showing.
In the final couple of hundred metres, Cavendish hit the front and although Saxo Bank’s Juan Jose Heado took him on, the Argentinian was never going to get past him.
Cavendish took the first yellow jersey of the race and also leads the points competition he won last year.
The fifth edition of the Tour of California is the first to be held this late in the year, having previously been run in February. The later date means the weather is better and the first day was greeted by bright spring sunshine.
The eight-day race continues on Monday with a 176-kilometre stage from Davis to Santa Rosa. The toughest stage is on Friday, from Pasadena to Big Bear Lake, which features lots of climbing. Saturday’s time trial in Los Angeles may be decisive. Radioshack rider Levi Leipheimer is aiming for his fourth consecutive overall win. Lance Armstrong (Radioshack), Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Lars Boom (Rabobank), David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) and George Hincapie (BMC Racing) are the other big-name riders in the race. Britain’s Jeremy Hunt is part of the Cervélo team.
Tour of California 2010, stage one: Nevada City – Sacramento, 167km
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia in 4-04-46
2. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) BMC Racing
4. Robbie Hunter (RSA) Garmin-Transitions
5. Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Fly V Australia
6. Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing
7. Guillaume Boivin (Can) SpiderTech
8. Andreas Stauff (Ger) Quick Step
9. Nikolas Maes (Bel) Quick Step
10. Tom Leezer (Ned) Rabobank all same time
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia